Smooth start to school year

Opening: Nearly 30,000 students and 2,100 teachers head back to school for the first day of classes in Carroll County.

August 31, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

They streamed in from the parking lot, some still looking a little drowsy from their summer break, but the students at Winters Mill High School in Westminster quickly perked up as they greeted old friends with hugs and "How was your summer?" chatter.

"I woke up this morning and thought, `Oh, my God, it's 6 a.m.' I haven't seen this time of the morning in a long time," said Heidi Flinn, a 17-year-old senior.

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

Carroll school officials were pleased with the relatively problem-free first day of school for the nearly 30,000 students - and 2,100 teachers - heading back to classes.

"Everything looked great," said schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, who spent his morning visiting Liberty and South Carroll high schools in Sykesville, as well as Sandymount Elementary in Finksburg. "It's a good start to what I think will be a wonderful year."

As the 15-minute-warning bell sounded at Winters Mills High, signifying that classes would soon begin, students filled the hallways for the start of a new year - one that will include the school's first graduating class.

Winters Mill, which opened two years ago, is set to graduate about 285 seniors June 8. Yesterday, it seemed most were just beginning to consider the significance of being the school's first graduates.

"Everyone is just glad they're getting out of high school," said Kristen Byron, a 16-year-old senior who plays on the volleyball team.

But Kristen added that being the first graduating class has benefits.

"We get to set the traditions," she said. "We're setting the foundation. We're part of what the school becomes."

Seniors for 3 years

Principal Sherri-Le Bream said that because the school opened in 2002 with ninth- and 10th-graders only, this year's seniors might not yet appreciate the distinction because they haven't had an older group ahead of them.

"They've been the senior group for three years," she said. "They'll realize they are the first class and that'll develop as the year goes on."

Across the county, the transition from summer to school was a smooth one for most.

This is the first year that all elementary pupils will be provided bus transportation to school. In response to parent concerns, school officials agreed in March to transport all elementary pupils, including those who live within a mile of school.

"It has been a great opening [day] so far," said Jim Doolan, the school system's transportation director. "When you're moving over 29,000 students, the first day there will be glitches."

Doolan said the typical back-to-school problems included a few crowded buses and students who missed their buses because of route changes or time changes.

"We'll take a couple days to work it out, but by the middle of next week we'll be clean as a whistle," said Doolan, whose department runs more than 300 buses over 450 square miles of county roads.

Mercury cleanup

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

"We're in real good shape. ... The environmental company did a fantastic job of cleanup and we may even get back into that room sooner than we thought," Phillips said.

At schools across the region, students began settling in.

In Howard County, more than 47,700 students returned to 69 schools yesterday, including about 3,000 kindergartners, some of whom will be attending the county's first full-day kindergarten classes.

On top of hectic first-day activities, Clemens Crossing Elementary School in Columbia was without electricity for about an hour yesterday because of a power outage in the neighborhood, school officials said, noting that emergency lights came on.

600 new teachers

More than 75,000 children started the year in Anne Arundel County yesterday. It was also the first day for more than 600 new teachers in the school system.

Children entering kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, however, will be getting a few more days of summer. About one-third of Anne Arundel's 77 elementary schools now offer full-day kindergarten, but those children and the pre-kindergartners will be phased in gradually over the next two weeks.

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

"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," said Principal Thomas Szerensits.

In Baltimore County, Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick were at Padonia International Elementary School in Cockeysville yesterday morning to announce a new statewide campaign promoting the accomplishments of students in Maryland's public schools.

The trio issued "WELCOME BACK" and "Maryland Public Schools Pride" stickers to children and parents armed with digital and video cameras.

Power outages

Baltimore County's Carroll Manor Elementary in Baldwin and Woodlawn High closed early after losing power.

At Catonsville High, 14-year-old freshman Jillian Curtis was grateful to have a day to get lost without the embarrassment of upper-classmen watching. Baltimore County middle and high schools had staggered opening days to give sixth- and ninth-graders a chance to adjust.

"It'll be scarier tomorrow," Jillian said.

Sun staff writers Hanah Cho, Liz F. Kay and Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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