The summer of Ashley Moore's eighth year will be filled with swimming and biking, roller-skating and tap dance lessons -- days that could not be more different from those she spent last summer recovering from severe burns suffered in a boiler system accident at Baltimore's Hazelwood Elementary School.
She has come through with resilience, but there is no forgetting.
Diving into an oversized carton of toys in the living room of her home in Northeast Baltimore, she is as likely to emerge with a package of unopened gauze or hospital skin cream as she is a teddy bear or a yo-yo or a box of crayons. She makes a game of finding images in the scars that run the length of her small body.
"They're like the shapes of a constellation to her -- it's her way of accepting it," said her mother, Tamala Moore. Ashley, a bright, determined little girl with enormous eyes and an infectious smile, seems to take it in stride.
"How she was is how she's trying to be," said her mother, who until now has declined to publicly discuss details of Ashley's accident and her recovery.
After months of surgeries and painful burn treatments, of learning to sit up and to walk all over again, of home tutoring and difficult physical therapy, Ashley seems very nearly there.
The incident June 18, 1996, occurred after Hazelwood's hot-water system overheated, creating a dangerous buildup of heat and pressure, state inspectors believe.
When Ashley flushed a toilet, that pressure was released in an eruption of scalding water and steam that left her with second- and third-degree burns from her neck to her ankles.
Her recovery required her to remain for weeks on a heated, liquid-filled mattress designed for burn patients. She made seven trips to surgery, a prospect her mother says Ashley did not mind much because it was the only time she wasn't in pain. Uninterested in meals, she received nourishment intravenously all summer.
As she improved, she developed a curiosity about health and science that has become a daily interest. She proudly rattles off the steps of her most recent chemistry experiment and uses medical terms that confound her mother.
In the hospital, she painted and strung wildly colored beads. Once home, she kept a journal, writing one-page observations about Halloween and her plan to get a dog.
When she finally began second-grade classes in November, they were in a private school on the west side of town, where she did not face daily reminders of the accident, as she would have at Hazelwood.
Sometimes, she confided recently, she sort of misses being pushed around in a wheelchair.
Ashley still has pain, but it is easing. "At first it felt like the sun was on it -- now it just feels cold," she says.
It took six months before she was comfortable enough to sleep through the night, according to her mother.
The scars from the accident reach beyond the Moores, who are suing the schools, city, state and Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. for $6.5 million. Parents of children at Hazelwood say the accident has left them with nagging fears about the physical conditions in the schools.
June Kroll, who has three children at Hazelwood and lives around the corner, rushed to the school that day after seeing the ambulance out front. She could feel the heat in the air when she walked through the front door.
Although all the schools were reinspected after the accident and officials say they have fixed the hazardous conditions that were found in many, Kroll's confidence in the system has not improved much.
"Sooner or later I'm afraid things will go by the wayside again," she said. "If I could afford it, I would probably put my children in the parochial schools. But I don't know that they're maintained any better."
She and others also ask why it is taking more than a year for officials to explain what exactly happened at Hazelwood, the contributing factors and how conditions became so dangerous throughout the schools.
Newly released records show that maintenance workers reported the need for a new water-temperature control valve at Hazelwood at least six weeks before the accident. Four days prior to the accident, they alerted school engineers that the school's water temperature could not be controlled.
"There was knowledge that something was wrong, and nothing was done," Moore said.
Members of a state panel investigating widespread discrepancies in boiler inspections at the schools say they don't know when their task will be finished. Only this month did they ask their first questions of school officials and of the private, city-paid Hartford safety inspectors, whose work has been called into question.
"This should have been done by the end of last summer, before schools opened," said Moore.
Another parent, Barbara Donatelli, agreed: "We should have had answers already. They should give us a report of what they found and a plan of action to resolve it."