Though class is out, school work goes on

Summer: While pupils are on vacation, faculty prepare for the year ahead.

August 08, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

After nearly 15 years as an elementary school principal, Central Elementary's Rocco Ferretti understands the need to be prepared.

During the precious months when classes are not in session, schools in Anne Arundel County and elsewhere are in a state of upheaval, with repairs and preparations scheduled while students are not underfoot.

"You're always nervous," Ferretti said. "Every principal always thinks we're never going to be ready."

But the key for a smooth start to the school year is preparing for every contingency, he said.

"What we're really trying to do is anticipate what might happen at the very last minute," Ferretti explained.

One example: Just in case an additional fifth-grade teacher comes to the school in Edgewater, the principal has spent hours assembling different permutations of schedules for reading groups, and gym, music, media and art classes.

"We call it Plan A and Plan B," Ferretti said.

He also gathered extra desks, file cabinets and chalkboards to ensure that a new teacher would have the furniture needed to start the year.

Planning for the possibilities and notifying families when those possibilities become realities reduces stress during the first days of school so children can get to work right away, Ferretti said.

Kevin Dennehy, who has served as principal of George Fox Middle School in Pasadena for eight years, agreed.

"If we do all our homework, so to speak, over the summer, everything works a lot more smoothly," he said.

In addition to traditional summertime tasks such as developing locker and course assignments, staff members coordinate visits to the building for sixth-graders entering middle school for the first time, Dennehy said.

The new students attend a large orientation in May. During several weeks of the summer they also can sign up to tour the school with a staff member. On the Wednesday before school opens, they attend another meeting, where they can purchase school supplies or gym uniforms.

Early on, Dennehy said, teachers and other staff members patrol the halls, scanning for worried or lost expressions on students' faces to point them in the right direction.

"You very seldom see a sixth-grader crying on the first day of school," Dennehy said. "We're very kind and gentle with them."

Ferretti also has strategies to help students adjust to the new year. He prefers to let children know their teacher assignments in August so there's no suspense.

"It gets all that anxiety out of the system," he said.

Instead of a disorderly process of sorting kids into classes in the school yard, "within 10 minutes everyone is in their classroom," Ferretti added.

And some priorities never change, no matter whether classes are in session: Ferretti makes a point of stopping at the Edgewater branch of the Anne Arundel County library three or four times a week.

Students are strongly encouraged to join the summer reading program there. If the principal makes an appearance, "they'll know that it means something," he said.

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