WHEN OKLAHOMA Road Middle School opened two weeks ago, one wag joked that the timing of its debut was the source of its name, the Eldersburg institution for 675 pubescent pupils having begun its useful life in the middle of the school year.
An anonymous, for good reason, teacher allowed that she felt caught "in the middle of the middle," having to learn a lot of new names and a new curriculum to jump-start the second semester.
The $13 million school was a welcome change for lots of the teachers and children who were parked in the 14 portable classrooms at jam-packed Sykesville Middle, where lunchtime lasted all day due to the cafeteria's limited seating capacity.
Oklahoma Road's a school with a lot of amenities that don't easily retrofit into older schoolhouses. The computer room is spacious, with lots of pre-planned wiring. There are three music rooms, and a capacious bright gymnasium with pull-out bleachers.
In fact, bright is an adjective that could be used throughout the building, from the fresh glazed-tile walls to the ample interior lighting to the flood of winter's brilliant sunshine through the windows.
The classroom clusters, or team suites, keep one group of students within short distance of their next hour's academic class. No long treks down and around the hallways, except to lunch and the "specials" like music and phys ed. Each row of lockers is painted a different color to help identify the various hallway corridors.
This is not an avant-garde structure, a pioneering school building, an architectural breakthrough. It's the same design that is being used for other middle schools in Carroll.
But Oklahoma Road is no nondescript, cookie-cutter building. The sand-colored bricks, the inlay design on the facade and the faintly Spanish styling distinguish it from previous generations of schoolhouses.
For the kids who began classes here last month, this is more than just a new structure and a new setting. It's a new experience, an emotional one. "Today is truly the first day of school for everyone," said one teacher on opening day.
Classes were not transported intact from Sykesville. They were reconstituted, run through the blender, sifted and sorted. Not for annoyance, but to create a new school for benefit of pupils and staff alike.
Still, the upheaval was considerable, and this after many pre-teen kids had already gone through a hard adjustment the first semester at Sykesville. It was not a case of simply combining two half-classes from Sykesville at Oklahoma Road.
Teachers found mostly new faces, instead of just a few, even though they had taught this past year at Sykesville. Some who taught sixth graders were switched to eighth-grade classes, and so forth. One student said he had "a few kids" from his former school in his Oklahoma Road classes, "but I don't know them real well." But the large gaggles of youngsters chattering away in the hallways suggested that many had readily found old chums and easily made new friends, too.
Why open now?
School authorities admitted they were concerned about opening the new school in midyear, disrupting classes and schedules and prompting adolescent anxieties. But the new school was at last (five months late) ready for occupancy, and it seemed the better choice to relieve the conditions at Sykesville Middle as soon as possible, for the sake of children at both locations.
There was also the matter of public reaction to letting an expensive new school sit idle for eight months. Carroll had advanced the money for the school from the county treasury after initial rejection of funding by the state. It had lobbied state politicians to finally get belated state reimbursement. Bad weather and a rash of vandalism then delayed the planned September opening. But if Sykesville was so crowded, the transfer had to occur as soon as possible.
Somewhere along the line, people got the impression that class sizes would miraculously shrink with the availability of Oklahoma Road, that students would be swimming in open space.
In fact, some of the classes at the new school have more pupils than in the Sykesville school. Remember, the total number of teachers didn't change much. Portable classrooms at Sykesville were retired, for the moment, and hallways looked less like lemming runs between periods. But the number of students in a class didn't decrease.
Pressure on school capacity continues throughout the county. Oklahoma Road will be over capacity within two years, the administration projects. And that's despite the inclusion of space for 150 more pupils in the future. Elderburg's a high growth area, in a high growth county.
Carroll's school system added more than 800 pupils this year, and expects another 700 come fall. That's more than the number of kids that entered Oklahoma Road Middle. There's a bit more breathing room in the system since it opened, but only if the county can avoid taking deep breaths.
Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.
Pub Date: 2/02/97