Starting another chapter

Start-up: The academic year got under way yesterday for more than 47,700 Howard County students, including about 3,000 full-day kindergarteners.

August 31, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Kimberly McClain watched her 5-year-old son Tarrence Morgan, the last of her three children, follow his teacher into Stevens Forest Elementary School and start his first day of kindergarten yesterday.

No tears were shed - at least by Tarrence. But McClain was anxious.

"I'm ready to cry," said McClain, who has twin third-graders. "He's my last one."

She wasn't the only one with butterflies.

"I'm feeling probably a lot like the kids - nervous, excited," said JoAnne Mezei, one of two full-day kindergarten teachers at Stevens Forest, site of a celebration to kick off the school year.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline in an article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun about the first day of school incorrectly identified the number of kindergarten pupils enrolled in full-day kindergarten. Of the 3,000 kindergarteners, about 400 attend full-day classes. The Sun regrets the error.

It was the first day of the new school year yesterday for more than 47,700 Howard County students, including about 3,000 kindergarten pupils, some of whom are attending full-day instead of half-day classes for the first time. Teachers and students also returned to their classrooms in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties. Baltimore City schools don't resume until next week.

As part of a state requirement that school systems implement all-day kindergarten by the 2007-2008 school year, Howard is offering full-day classes at six of the county's 37 elementary schools - Bryant Woods, Laurel Woods, Phelps Luck, Running Brook, Stevens Forest and Talbott Springs - and Cradlerock, a prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade school. The remaining schools will be phased-in over the next three years.

"I'm very confident that they will rise to the challenge and get a great education and be better prepared for first grade next year and throughout elementary school," said Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard Democrat and an advocate of full-day kindergarten, who attended yesterday's celebration at Stevens Forest.

Parents at Stevens Forest got a sneak-peek at their children's first day by observing and spending time in their classrooms, including the two full-day kindergarten classes.

For the second straight year, the school system invited parents to come into class on the first day as part of a national initiative to spur them to stay involved in the education of their children. After the program's debut at Deep Run Elementary School, Stevens Forest was added this year, school officials said.

For parents of first-time pupils, it was also an opportunity to observe how a full-day kindergarten classroom would operate and put their minds at ease about their youngsters being in school.

"I'm a little sad because she's growing up," said Rachel Waterstardt, parent of 4 1/2 -year-old Lina.

Inside Mezei's classroom, a half-dozen parents watched her lead 18 kindergartners in a reading exercise. Some snapped pictures while others videotaped their child's first experience in elementary school.

Flipping through an illustrated book, ABC & You, Mezei recited a letter and its corresponding description and matching name.

"Brave Ben," Mezei said.

"Are we going to be brave in kindergarten?" she asked the pupils.

"Yes," the children replied in unison.

Mezei went through each letter of the alphabet and assigned her pupils to come up with a similar concept and drawings of themselves.

Tarrence Morgan became Tiger Tarrence.

Lina Waterstardt became Lovely Lina.

By 11 a.m., parents began trickling out of the classroom. A few of the children cried; many were finishing their name project and cleaning up.

"I'm OK," Waterstardt said outside the classroom. "I said, `Give me a hug.' She said, `I gotta go sing.' I think she likes it. It's good."

Meanwhile, Clemens Crossing Elementary School in Columbia was without electricity for about an hour yesterday morning because of a power outage in the neighborhood, school officials said, noting that emergency lights came on.

"The teachers did what they needed to do, and the kids were wonderful," said Principal Peggy Dumler. "It was business as usual."

Elsewhere, school districts experienced very few glitches on their first day back.

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 statewide campaign promoting the accomplishments of students in Maryland's public schools. The three issued "WELCOME BACK" and "Maryland Public Schools Pride" stickers to children and parents wielding digital and video cameras.

Baltimore County's Carroll Manor Elementary in Baldwin and Woodlawn High each had to close early because of a power outage.

In Anne Arundel, more than 75,000 children started a new year. It was also the first day for more than 600 rookie teachers. Children entering kindergarten and prekindergarten can enjoy a few more days of summer, however. About one-third of 77 elementary schools now offer full-day kindergarten, but those children as well as prekindergartners will be phased in gradually over the next two weeks.

Carroll school officials were pleased with the relatively problem-free first day of school for the nearly 30,000 students and 2,100 teachers. For elementary schools, this is the first year that all 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.

Harford 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.

Staff writers Gina Davis, Liz F. Kay and Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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