Old school, interim site

Relocation: Ellicott Mills Middle pupils will spend two years at the new Bonnie Branch Middle while its building, which opened in 1939, is demolished and rebuilt.

August 31, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Being an upperclassman has its advantages: You know the layout of the school like the back of your hand. Typical first-day-of-school worries such as hoping -- no, praying -- that your locker will open are, well, for kids.

That is, unless you're an upperclassmen at the new Ellicott Mills at Bonnie Branch Middle School. Chances are, you were just as lost yesterday on the first day of school as the sixth-graders.

"It's like we're sixth-graders again," said eighth-grader Dan Federline, 13, after a successful dry run with his locker.

Ellicott Mills at Bonnie Branch was just one of 66 Howard County public schools welcoming an expected 42,350 children back to classes yesterday. The school system also opened the doors of the new Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton yesterday.

Schools also opened in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties yesterday. Harford County, which opens Thursday, was the lone exception in the metropolitan area.

By late afternoon, Howard schools appeared to be operating relatively glitch-free.

"We've got a couple of hours to go here, but we're doing really well," spokeswoman Patti Caplan said yesterday afternoon.

The 1999-2000 school year will be a significant one for Howard County in terms of new programs.

The school system has embarked on a plan that has reduced class sizes in first- and second-grade classes in 17 elementary schools.

The student-teacher ratios in those classes are 19 to 1. High school freshman English and math classes also have been cut to a student-teacher ratio of 18.5 to 1, in an effort to help those students prepare for high school assessments.

"Obviously, what it does is to limit our future ability to relieve as much overcrowding as we'd like in the outlying areas of Columbia," Caplan said.

To accommodate the changes -- including growth and more staff for special education programs -- the school system has hired about 170 teachers, Caplan said.

At Ellicott Mills at Bonnie Branch, teachers led groups of backpack-laden students through the hallways to give them a tour of spiffy classrooms, an airy media center with skylights and a pristine-looking gymnasium. Although it is housed in a new building, Ellicott Mills is hardly a new school.

For two years, the staff and pupils from the old Ellicott Mills Middle School on Route 103 will occupy the new Bonnie Branch Middle School building, while the old school is demolished and rebuilt. Built in 1939, Ellicott Mills was the county's oldest middle school.

The rebuilt Ellicott Mills will open in 2001, and Bonnie Branch Middle will have its its own identity.

"I just think it's gorgeous. We did the best that we could with the old building. It was a dark atmosphere," said Kathy Benditt, a sixth-grade science teacher.

"One obvious difference is the building of today considers the educational program we're supposed to carry out today," new Principal Mike Goins said.

Goins also pointed out that certain teachers no longer have to scramble for classroom space.

"Instead of them hunting out a closet to work in, there's actually a space for them," he said.

And sixth-graders weren't alone in locker combat.

One teacher couldn't resist ribbing a set of eighth-graders struggling with their locker combinations as she led a stream of sixth-graders past:

"Are these all the eighth-graders who still don't know how to work their lockers?"

"It's different this year!" several wailed back.

Shana Bolton, 12, a seventh-grader, gave positive reviews to the "nicer and bigger" lockers, the "big, huge" media center, and the extra elbow room in classes. Indeed, the media center seemed to be a hit with everyone, including eighth-grader Heather Dellinger, 13.

"It's got an awesome media center," she said. "I'm sorry, but that thing is so awesome."

Media specialist Kathy Manley said she believes the modern look of the media center -- which one teacher compared to a public library branch -- will entice the middle-schoolers to take advantage of it.

"The physical setup is so much more attractive and open, and it's a focal point of the school," Manley said. "I think they're really excited to come in and use all the wonderful materials they can see every day when they come in."

Sun staff writer Jamal E. Watson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/31/99

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