Pupils manage 1st day of school They got to classes 'without any tears,' principal says

August 27, 1996|By Beth Reinhard | Beth Reinhard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN Sun staff writers Erica Harrington and Howard Libit contributed to this article.

Sharon Berlin, a self-possessed 11-year-old with a personality to match her fuchsia backpack, acknowledged being nervous about three things before her first day at Columbia's Oakland Mills Middle School: "Getting lost, getting my combination on my locker wrong and saying something that's dumb."

Well, she was late to a couple of classes, got antonyms confused with homonyms and forgot her $1 for an assignment book, but none of her worst fears came true.

Throughout Howard County yesterday, it was much the same for about 39,000 other public school pupils, who shuffled fairly smoothly through the first day of school despite the typical hitches of missing a bus or forgetting a lunch.

"It was a very good opening day for us," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey. "I got to about a dozen schools, and other people stopped in at the rest of them, and the reports are uniformly good."

No bus accidents were reported, though a few buses showed up at erratic times. A handful of Long Reach High School students said their bus never showed up.

Parents driving their children to school should be aware of a police "no warning" policy around schools for the next two weeks. Drivers who speed, run stop signs or follow other cars too closely are likely to be fined and assessed points.

Three new facilities opened yesterday: Ilchester Elementary, Long Reach High and Wilde Lake High. Ilchester Principal Jackie Lazarewicz said an orientation Sunday helped ease anxieties among parents and children.

"Everything went very quietly and very smoothly," she said. "The children got to their classes without any tears."

At River Hill High, Principal Scott Pfeifer and Assistant Principal Barry Odell greeted the school's first student body and faculty in tuxedos with powder-blue bow ties. For the past two years, Wilde Lake students attended River Hill while their school was rebuilt.

Also new this year: River Hill and Long Reach will have "technology-magnet" programs that are replacing the county's vocational education programs, instructional aides will supervise cafeteria time and recess periods, and principals will report directly to the superintendent.

On the drive to her new school yesterday morning, Sharon Berlin passed her old elementary school, Stevens Forest.

"I kind of wish I was still going there because I know where everything is," she said, "but they kind of treat you like a baby."

The first test of her newfound independence: locker No. 116. "It opened! It opened!" she squealed after a few quick turns unlatched the combination lock.

Aqua lunch bag? Check. Magnetized mirror for quick touch-ups between classes? Check. Orange box of markers? Check. Now it was off to homeroom.

For those who haven't been inside a middle-school classroom lately, no one wears saddle shoes anymore. The only girl wearing a dress also was wearing hiking boots.

Sharon dressed down like the other kids, wearing black denim overall shorts, a flowered T-shirt and sandals.

Her first class was science, where her teacher performed the tasks that were to become rituals in every class: taking attendance, passing out a paper for parents to sign and explaining the rules. So many rules!

Her math teacher will only accept homework in pencil. Her social studies teacher wants assignments placed in the basket marked No. 2. Her reading teacher says late work will get one grade lower for each late day.

"What if I forget to put the date on my paper?" worried Sharon, a student who likes to gesture. "What if I have to go to my locker and the bathroom between classes?"

Lunch was a welcome break. Sharon sat with a group of girls she knows from elementary school on a bench they instantly claimed for the whole year. The trading began almost immediately:

Melissa gave Elena some regular potato chips for some barbecue potato chips. Sharon traded string cheese to Pam for Doritos. Sharon gave some Doritos to Elena for a handful of potato chips.

"I like to pack things I don't even like that much just so I can trade," freckle-faced Sharon explained.

Having friends makes the transition to middle school easier. So does having teachers that taught her older sister -- 14-year-old Sara -- though Sharon rolled her eyes every time they accidentally called her by her sister's name.

On the first day, her teachers appeared sharp and energetic, some with a gimmick to keep pupils animated. One offered to lend students pencils -- if they give her a shoe. Another will put a riddle on the blackboard every day.

Sharon's reaction to her teachers: "Cool."

But the best part of middle school?

"I like walking in the halls and not having to be in a line like in elementary school," Sharon said, walking home with a backpack full of loose-leaf papers replete with expectations of her. "I only wish the day went a little faster."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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