A long winter's break

Vacation: In Anne Arundel, students are still celebrating the holidays well into the new year. A long winter's break

January 05, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The lucky children of Anne Arundel County slept in yesterday. Then they played with their new toys or watched TV or went to the movies or just drove their parents nuts.

But they didn't go to school. Oh no, not them, not yet.

Anne Arundel schools were the only ones in Maryland to be closed this entire week.

Students in the state's other 23 public school systems went back to class, reluctantly but without much choice in the matter, Wednesday or Thursday. But from Glen Burnie to Lothian, classrooms were dark, buses sat idle in parking lots and textbooks were shut tight.

Anne Arundel's 75,000 students and 5,200 teachers won't return until Monday - almost a full week after the start of the new year.

"There are 60,000 reasons for it," said Georgiana Maszczenski, who's in charge of the county schools' calendar. "You want to hear them all?"

Suffice to say, it's complicated, and it has something to do with late semester exams and the day of the week on which Christmas and New Year's fell.

Whatever, said students. They were just happy to be enjoying an extended holiday while the rest of the world went back to work and school.

"This is great," said Edward Walker, 16, prowling Arundel Mills mall yesterday with his friend Alvin Terry, 16, both Meade High School juniors. "We might take another week off because we're so exhausted."

From what?

"Eating, video games, girls," he said.

"Girls and movies," Terry added, though they were notably without female accompaniment at the time.

The mall in Hanover seemed the center of the teen-age universe this week, at least for Anne Arundel teen-agers. They clambered up the rock-climbing wall at Outdoor World, lazily browsed the CD racks in music stores and lined up for the movies.

Again and again and again.

Thirteen-year-old Ryan Gigli said he's seen five movies since Christmas - Black Knight, Ali, Not Another Teen Movie, Lord of the Rings and another he can't remember the name of.

"Oh, yeah, it's a good thing," Gigli, a Central Middle eighth-grader, said of the two-week holiday break. He said he had a couple of school projects to do, but he'd get to them tomorrow.

Added his friend Lauren Haspert, 17, a senior at South River High: "We spent all of last week with our families. We need this time to relax."

But parents aren't so sure. Working parents had to find day care for their young children. And even stay-at-home parents say their nerves are a little frayed by now.

"I think it's too long a break," said Cindy Rostek, who was at the Arundel Mills Muvico yesterday with her 10-year-old daughter, Caitlin, to see Kate and Leopold. "We're starting to get on each other's nerves, and they have enough time off during the year. They don't need this."

Teachers weren't too happy, either. They see students sitting home while valuable class days slip away.

"I feel like we're wasting time," said Angie Holocker, a science teacher at Northeast High School who needs to get her students ready for the state's high school biology assessment test Jan. 14.

But Holocker, who lives in Queen Anne's County, found one advantage: She got to see her children off to school this week while she was still in her bathrobe.

This long break comes just over a month after Anne Arundel students were off all of Thanksgiving week.

Maszczenski said the reasons are complex. Essentially, students get a long winter break because the high school semester exams are so late this year - Jan. 28-30.

The state requires students to go to school for 180 days per year - 90 days for the first semester and 90 for the second. That means the county could have only 90 school days before Jan. 28.

"We had to get rid of some extra days, so we took them this week," Maszczenski said. And with New Year's falling on a Tuesday, it wasn't worth it to open and heat buildings for a day or two before the weekend.

Moving up the semester exams to earlier in January wouldn't work, she said, because the statewide high school assessment tests will be given Jan. 14-18. The county didn't want to pressure students by giving semester exams right after the state assessment tests. So semester exams were pushed back to Jan. 28-30.

Anne Arundel children may have enjoyed their freedom this week, but they'll pay for it later. They will go to school until June 14 this year - later than students in many other school systems.

Officials in other counties who were working yesterday weren't envious of Anne Arundel's long holiday.

"We'll be smiling in June when they're still in school," said Patti Caplan, Howard County schools spokeswoman.

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