Before school, idle time

Parking: With spaces scarce, Old Mill High seniors arrive extra early.

April 04, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The clock says 6:27 - a.m., that is - and senior Silas Stephan is tucked into his usual spot behind Old Mill High School, with Limp Bizkit on the headphones, his green Chevy Cavalier idling to power the heat.

The bell won't ring for 50 more minutes. Wait until just before first period starts at 7:17 a.m., already considered an ungodly hour by many teens, and there surely won't be a single spot left in the senior parking lot, a few dozen yards from the school's door.

Every space in the scruffy-looking paved lot - with lines drawn for 110 cars but typically jammed with more - is filled by 6:45 a.m. Showing up later means being shunted off to the other lot - the one all the way by the football field, the one that means an extra two- or three-minute walk to class.

"The junior lot," Stephan sneers. "It's over there."

There are more than 450 seniors at the Millersville school, after all.

At a time when researchers say the biological clocks of teen-agers are already out of sync with school schedules, that schools should start much later to get the most out of students academically, Old Mill's students are getting up extra early to snag prime parking spots. Many in the lot on a recent morning said they rise before 6 a.m. - just to save themselves a few steps and a little indignity.

"It's a lot of people and only so many parking spaces," said Randie Lockett, 18, who drives her cousin, junior Eric Lanager, to school each morning.

Lockett and Lanager appeared to be napping in her station wagon. Melina Dorsey did her algebra homework in a car nearby. In the next space, Mark Harmon ate dry Fruit Loops washed down with pop. Some venture out onto the cracked blacktop, now that it's no longer pitch-dark at this hour. A few groups congregated in the middle of the lot, gossiping the morning away, bass-heavy music thumping out of their exhaust-spewing cars.

They don't go inside the school, for the most part, until at least 10 minutes after 7.

"We get up earlier than our parents," said Dan Somes, 18, who sat in the back of classmate Harmon's car, smoking a cigarette. "They're actually still asleep when I leave the house. They think it's funny."

Oddly enough, this seems to be where it's at in the minutes before Katie Couric and Matt Lauer hit the air.

"When it gets warmer, this lot will be filled by 6:40," Somes said. "People come early, so you have to come early."

Lindsay O'Dea and her sophomore sister, Allison, tried leaving for school at 6:30 a.m. They just couldn't keep it up. Now, they leave at 7 a.m. and end up toward the back of the junior lot, sprinting to get to class on time.

Not next year. At the senior fashion show's auction, Allison may have claimed the best prize of all for $28: a year-long pass for the close-to-the-door teacher's lot.

"Next year I'll just be getting there one minute before class and walking right in," she said.

Seniors get the first crack at buying the white, $2 parking tags, but having one doesn't guarantee a spot near the building. Space is tight at many Baltimore-area schools. Populations are growing and the land surrounding the schools is not. More students means more cars. More students also means more classroom space is needed to house them - and building those often swallows up more parking spaces.

Some schools minimize the number of drivers by requiring a 2.0 grade-point average in order to drive to campus, and many give permits only to seniors. Others cut down on the cutthroat tactics - and early rising - to get a spot by assigning each student to a numbered space and creating a waiting list when room runs out.

"We're way out of spaces," said William Myers, principal at Arundel High School in Gambrills. "We literally could use 100 more."

"Parking and driving to school is one of those rites of passage," said Old Mill Principal Arlen Liverman. He and his staff watch as the kids try to get around the rules, a "cat-and-mouse game," Liverman calls it. Sometimes, they'll try to sneak into the lot reserved for teachers or park in off-limits locales even closer to the doors. Other times they will just cram as many cars as possible into their lot, yellow lines be damned.

"They're not choosy about where they can sneak into a spot," Linda Emge, the school's business manager, says with a laugh.

Take a recent morning. A silver Ford Focus was taking up two coveted spots. One of them belonged to Shannon Ashley, whose surgery-hobbled passenger Amber Randazzo forgot her elevator key at home. So Ashley drove back to get it and the driver of the Focus was good enough to save her spot.

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