Schools to lose orientation day starting in fall

Sixth-, ninth-graders to start on same day as older students

Parents express concern

Smith notes financial, instructional reasons for the elimination

Anne Arundel

April 29, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Students entering middle and high school in Anne Arundel County this fall won't have an extra day to orient themselves before older students join them, as has been the practice in past years, officials said.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith noted instructional and financial reasons for eliminating the staggered openings, which allowed incoming sixth- and ninth-graders to start school a day early.

"I think it's very important that both parents and students are at ease," Smith said. "But there are ways to deal with it that are more cost effective and less disruptive to one of our precious school days."

Some parents, however, are worried about the loss of the orientation day.

Severna Park parent Lisa C. Cox said her son is nervous about starting high school next year and needs the day to adjust.

"I just think the transition between elementary and middle school, and middle school and high school, is a very big step for students," Cox said. "They're very intimidated when older students are there. They need some reassurance."

Officials said the staggered openings deprive students not in the sixth or ninth grade of one of the schools' 180 instructional days.

"We want to get off to a flying start," Associate Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson said. "[The first day] is one of 180, and we need to use it."

Because new secondary school schedules to be used this fall will reduce instructional time in some subjects, teachers will have to make the most of every class session, according to school officials.

The practice of having an orientation day began 10 years ago in a few schools and was spread to all county middle and high schools four years ago.

Lawson, whose staff is compiling suggestions on how principals can ease the transition for students, said he is confident that school will start smoothly this fall. "We did it this way for years," he said. "I'm sure we'll remember how we used to do it, and do it just fine."

Schools will be required to provide transition assistance for new students, but they will be free to choose different methods, Lawson said.

Administrators may choose to have counselors and teachers talk to fifth- and eighth-graders this spring or hold tours and question-and-answer sessions during the summer.

On the first day of school, new students will be given assistance to find their way around, either by staff or more experienced peers. "Young people are very flexible," said Ken Nichols, a director of middle schools. "You give them a day or two, they'll learn the building and learn shortcuts."

Reginald Farrare, principal of MacArthur Middle School, said incoming sixth-graders have many things to adjust to, but he said he isn't worried about their not coming a day early to learn the ropes.

"It was a luxury to have that," Farrare said. "[Losing] it will have minimal, if any, impact."

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