Sporting pink Powerpuff Girls backpacks and toting Pokemon lunch pails, their hair neatly braided and their shirts white as in a detergent commercial, 400 boys and girls streamed into Annapolis' Germantown Elementary yesterday morning for the first day of school.
"It's back to reality!" one mother chortled to another. The kids were just as delighted.
"I want to be in school and learn some more," said Sarah Landis, 7, a third-grader with freckles and a wide grin. Her friend Jamie Newark, 8, was pulling at her arm to get into the school building.
"I just have been waiting for this all summer because I'd rather be in school," Jamie said before scooting off to class - early, of course.
Most of Anne Arundel County's 117 schools opened yesterday, though not all students had to report. Pupils in grades one through six, along with ninth-graders, returned yesterday. The county's remaining students will begin later this week, although delayed construction and maintenance projects at 15 county schools have forced about 6,500 pupils to wait up to a week for the start of their school year.
For Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who zipped around to six schools yesterday, it was her last opening day. After eight years in the school system's top post, Parham will leave in December to take a professorship at the University of Maryland.
"I don't think it's hit me. As long as I'm here, I'm just going to be doing my job. Next year's opening will be more difficult [for me]," she said yesterday, standing in a hallway at Germantown Elementary. "But this is pretty typical."
School officials reported no problems. The buses ran on time, the classrooms were in order and even the weather cooperated. The county opened no new schools this year, but spent more than $50 million on construction and maintenance at 83 schools during the summer.
Germantown Elementary received 33 new computers for its research lab, and the school's library received 18. A hallway was strewn with computer boxes yesterday as workers hooked up the last of the machines.
The school also received 32 laptop computers as part of a wireless network pilot project. The laptops are carted from classroom to classroom, where pupils set the computers up at their desks and connect to each other on a wireless network.
Robert Pollay, 8, was so excited about starting third grade that he woke up at 4:30 a.m. - more than four hours before classes started. When he finally got to school after a restless morning, he ran up to Annapolis police Officer Eric Crane and threw his arms around his waist.
"He's my buddy," Robert said. Then he asked Crane how much that shiny badge cost because he wanted one, too.
"Whoa, these aren't for sale," Crane said, tapping the badge on his chest. "You have to earn this."
Four years ago, Crane said, he "adopted" Germantown Elementary as part of an effort by city police to provide role models and stability in public schools. Crane visits the school several times a week, goes on class trips and helps out with special events.
Crane gives the pupils his pager and cell-phone numbers, and has clearly made a strong connection with them. Last year, he said, a few of the children called one Saturday morning to invite him over to their house to play Nintendo and watch cartoons. He graciously declined.
Germantown elementary students such as 6-year-old Bryce Pappas showed up early and waited for teachers to let them in. His mother, Barbara Pappas, stood by his side.
In school yesterday, music teacher Susan Storm tried to infuse the pupils with another kind of culture. After morning announcements, she introduced Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G minor for organ and strings over the public address system.
The music crackled through the classrooms as the children drank chocolate milk and munched on graham crackers and doughnuts. The work will be played every morning this week. Bach is up next week.
The idea, one teacher said, is to calm the children and put them in a studious mood.
While most kids were ready for school, a few clung to their parents. Even Sarah Landis, who was so eager to learn when she arrived at Germantown, hesitated before the doorway.
Sarah's mother handed her bookbag to her, patted her on the shoulder and said, "No, no, I'm not walking in with you. You're on your own now."