Middle school serves double duty Students share space while repairs are done

October 09, 1997|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

It could have been a nightmare: nearly 1,000 high school students forced to share a neighboring middle school, while their building is repaired after an electrical fire.

But things went so smoothly at Harford County's Magnolia Middle School yesterday that School Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky joked about making the arrangement permanent.

"This is evidence of what happens when a community comes together," Grotsky said, as Joppatowne High School students wandered the middle school hallways. "Hopefully we won't ever have to do this again, but if we do at least we know we can handle it."

On the first day of the cooperative arrangement -- under which Joppatowne students use the building from 7: 30 a.m. to 11: 15 a.m. and Magnolia students from 11: 45 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- people rallied to offer support.

A local Royal Farm store donated ice for high school athletes, who boarded shuttle buses to practices on the Joppatowne field.

Aberdeen Proving Ground pledged the use of a generator. A local church has offered to provide temporary day care for parents worried about their children being home alone.

Dozens of teachers, administrators and staff members -- along with nearly 2,000 high school and middle school students -- learned that they can share a school built for half that number.

"The teachers and kids have been great, and if something like this had to happen, this is the perfect community for it to happen in," said Joppatowne Principal Thomas Ackerman, whose school has 925 students. "We've been working 16-hour days to get ready for this, and everyone has really worked well together."

But not everyone is pleased with the arrangement, which will continue indefinitely while Joppatowne's electrical system is repaired. Janice Hall, the mother of a sixth-grader at Magnolia, said she has talked to several parents who are angry that the school day has been shortened to accommodate the Joppatowne students.

"They have taken precious hours of education away from my child," Hall said. "How can they cram six hours of work into four hours? They can't do it."

Joseph Mascari, Magnolia's principal, said that his school, which has 907 students, received only a few complaints from parents about the revised schedule and that his staff was compiling a list of parents with day care problems because of the schedule change.

"I think that when all the dust settles, it will be a case where everyone really came and worked together to make it a success," Mascari said.

The fire, discovered Oct. 1, forced classes at Joppatowne to be suspended Friday, Monday and Tuesday.

Yesterday, Joppatowne students navigated the hallways of Magnolia Middle to find their classes and greeted one another with hugs and smiles.

Brianna Bohon, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, said she was surprised to be back at the school she left only months ago.

"I thought I was out of here for good," she said. "It feels different to be back here, but the day is going fast."

Six Joppatowne students who arrived late were greeted by Grotsky, several administrators, two principals and staff members from both schools, on hand to help with any first-day glitches.

"Imagine getting to school and the superintendent and members of his Cabinet are waiting for you," Ackerman said, laughing. "Those students will never be late again."

Magnolia's PTA welcomed the high school students with a cut-out of a green alien wearing red shorts and holding a surfboard with a sign overhead that read "Welcome Mariners. Relax, it's a different school. It's not another Planet."

PTA President Jean Hruz said she was happy with how things went.

"I'm very satisfied that there was good planning, and the planning has worked out," Hruz said. "In a year, we will all be looking back and saying 'Whew, we made it.' "

Officials said Magnolia Middle was chosen because of its proximity to Joppatowne and because many Joppatowne students once attended Magnolia. Roy Vandarwarka, president of Joppatowne's PTSA, said most parents have been understanding.

"There have been some concerns because some of the middle school students have to come home and watch siblings and because of their later schedule, they won't be able to do that," Vandarwarka said.

Matthew Cornelius endured a bit of joking from his 12-year-old sister, Kara.

"She's been teasing me because she got to sleep in and I had to come to school," the 15-year-old Joppatowne High School sophomore said. "But my day went pretty good."

The schedule change also affected Jennifer Kissner, who doesn't have a child at either school.

Kissner relies on Kara to pick up her 4-year-old son, Dylan, after school.

Now, she and her husband are scrambling to make other arrangements.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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