Time to go back to books

School: In Anne Arundel and around the state, students are welcomed back for the first day.

August 31, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Shortly after sunrise yesterday, 16-year-old Tiffany Roberson was up, dressed and filling green and white balloons with helium at Arundel High School in Gambrills to welcome back her fellow students.

Her summer had ended a few hours earlier. The student government president was up until 3 a.m. finishing homework for her Advanced Placement English class.

"But then I was up again at 4 because I was excited about school," the senior said.

Roberson was among the more than 75,000 students who started a new year fueled by anticipation and adrenaline in Anne Arundel County, one of five area jurisdictions that started classes yesterday. More than 600 new teachers also joined the ranks of the approximately 5,000 who teach in the Anne Arundel school system.

Students in 10 of Maryland's 24 districts returned to classrooms yesterday, including those in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Harford and Montgomery counties. Another 10 districts, including Prince George's County, opened last week. Four, including Baltimore, will start Sept. 7.

Anne Arundel children entering kindergarten and pre-kindergarten also will get a few more days of vacation. About one-third of 77 elementary schools offer full-day kindergarten, but the start of school for their pupils and pre-kindergartners will be phased in gradually over the next two weeks.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith toured Arundel High and eight other county schools with school board members and leaders of parent groups. Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, met them at Solley Elementary in Glen Burnie, where the Solley Singers sang them the school song.

Smith said this year will give teachers and other staff a chance to regroup after major changes last year, such as the moves to using uniform textbooks and pacing guides.

"Last year we really wrestled with new schedules, a new curriculum," Smith said while waiting for the tour to begin at Jessup Elementary.

This year, "teachers and administrators have grown accustomed" to the changes, he said. "It's great to see the enthusiasm that goes with that."

Several initiatives began yesterday. High school students in English for Speakers of Other Languages programs started at one of Anne Arundel's three regional "international academies," which will offer more efficient and specialized English-language instruction. Staff members also initiated a system to report incidents motivated by bias based on race, religion or other factors.

Small problems

Opening day seemed to go smoothly in the county, despite small problems such as transportation mix-ups and the late delivery of some workbooks.

At Jessup Elementary, pupils trained as peer mediators greeted Smith and board member Eugene Peterson. Fifth-grader Rosa Johnson used the opportunity to ask Peterson to lower school lunch prices.

"But you like the food you're getting?" Peterson asked. She said she did.

Later in the afternoon, the enthusiasm seemed to wane. After a child asked at 12:50 p.m. whether it was time to go home, Solley second-grade teacher Dawn Hudgins instructed her class to stand up and "take a good stretch and shake those summer blues away."

At Old Mill Middle North in Millersville, Smith stopped to look at a boy's T-shirt in an eighth-grade language arts class. The superintendent read the message aloud: "I'm out of bed and dressed. What more do you want?"

"I want a lot more than that," he said with a laugh.

Harford County celebrated the opening of a $43 million building for Aberdeen High School, which for the past three years has held many classes in trailers and at a middle school.

"We spent the last three years essentially having nothing - no air conditioning, old facilities," said Principal Thomas Szerensits. "Today we had the opportunity to be in a brand new, state-of-the-art-building. It was a tremendous lift for all of us."

In Carroll County, nearly 30,000 students - and 2,100 teachers - headed to class, including the first senior class at Winters Mill High School in Westminster. In response to parents' concerns, all elementary pupils were provided bus transportation, including those who live within a mile of school.

Principal George Phillips said the day was "going fantastic" at South Carroll High School despite recent concerns about a mercury spill in the science teachers' office.

More than 47,700 Howard County students returned to its 69 schools, including about 3,000 kindergartners. Clemens Crossing Elementary School in Columbia was without electricity for about an hour because of a power outage in the neighborhood, school officials said. Emergency lights came on.

Baltimore County's Carroll Manor Elementary in Baldwin and Woodlawn High closed early because of a power outage.

Yesterday morning, Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Grasmick were at Padonia International Elementary School in Cockeysville to announce a statewide campaign promoting accomplishments of students in public schools.

The three issued "WELCOME BACK" and "Maryland Public Schools Pride" stickers to children and parents carrying digital and video cameras.

`A big day'

Parents such as Roxane Brennan of Rose Haven followed their back-to-school rituals. She took half a day off from her job at UPS to watch her sons, first-grader C.J. and fourth-grader Nicholas, board the school bus to Tracey's Elementary in Tracey's Landing in southern Anne Arundel.

Then she raced over to the school in her car and was waiting on the sidewalk at the school, disposable camera in hand, as they got off the bus.

"The first day of school's a big day," Brennan said as she left the school. "They're not babies anymore."

Sun staff writers Hanah Cho, Gina Davis and Sara Neu- feld contributed to this article.

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