Students welcomed back

School: Kids in 10 Maryland districts return to the classroom with few tears and few incidents.Schools open with big welcome

August 31, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

At Padonia International Elementary School, 5-year-old Yarasheila Sanjuan flung her arms around her mother's neck and cried when the time came for parents to leave the kindergarten classroom.

At Cedarmere Elementary, teacher Cindy Littman's 17 new third-graders stood in a circle and reminisced about horseback riding, camping trips and other summer activities.

And at Catonsville High, freshman Jillian Curtis, 14, was grateful to have a day to get lost without the embarrassment of upperclassmen watching.

It was the first day of the new school year yesterday at these three schools and hundreds of others in Baltimore County and around the region. Students in 10 of Maryland's 24 school districts returned to their classrooms yesterday, including those in Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Harford and Montgomery counties.

Another 10 districts, including Prince George's County, opened last week. Four, including Baltimore City, start Sept. 7.

In Baltimore County, many seventh-, eighth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders had a final day of vacation yesterday while middle and high schools gave sixth- and ninth-graders a chance to acclimate.

Baltimore County's Carroll Manor Elementary in Baldwin and Woodlawn High had to close early because of a power outage. Pinewood Elementary in Timonium lost power in part of the building. In Howard County, Clemens Crossing Elementary School was without electricity for about an hour.

But otherwise, officials said, opening day went off without incident.

"Everything looked great," said Carroll County Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, who like other area superintendents spent yesterday visiting schools. "It's a good start to what I think will be a wonderful year."

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.

Harford County celebrated the opening of a $43 million building for Aberdeen High School, which for 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."

At Arundel High School in Gambrills, senior and student government President Tiffany Roberson said she was up until 3 a.m. yesterday finishing summer journals for her Advanced Placement English class.

"But then I was up again at 4 because I was excited about school," the 16-year-old said.

Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick were at Padonia Elementary 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 toting Spider-Man and Dora the Explorer backpacks and parents wielding camcorders.

Many elementary schools urged parents to take off from work yesterday to accompany their children for the first day back, hoping to encourage year-round family involvement.

Roxane Brennan of Rose Haven took half a day off from her job at UPS to watch her two sons, first-grader C.J. and fourth-grader Nicholas, board the bus to Tracey's Elementary in Tracey's Landing, in Anne Arundel County. Then she raced over to the school in her car and was waiting on the sidewalk next to the school, disposable camera in hand, as the boys disembarked.

In Room 8 at Padonia, nearly all of the 17 kindergartners had a parent on hand to clap as they found their name tags in a green "pocket chart." The grown-ups gasped as one girl slipped and fell but did not cry.

Then it was time for the parents to go to the cafeteria for an assembly with the dignitaries. Yarasheila's parting with her mother, Veronica Ramirez, was tearful, but the little girl was soon leading the line to the bathroom and water fountain.

In Littman's third-grade class at Cedarmere Elementary in Reisterstown, three dads and one mom assisted as children drew self-portraits and wrote responses to such statements as, "This year, I really want to do this in school." ("I like to do recess" was 8-year-old Hunter Novak's reply.)

As the class stood in a circle and shared favorite summer memories, one boy said he had played video games while another -- who recently emigrated from Mexico -- said nothing at all. Littman encouraged children who would like to learn Spanish to hang out with that boy.

At Catonsville High, teachers told students that working hard doesn't guarantee an A as it might have in middle school.

"It's definitely a big change" from Catonsville Middle School, said Eric Sewell, 14. "I'm being treated like more of an adult."

David Holub, 14, said the hardest part of the day was waking up at 5:45 a.m. He'd gotten used to sleeping until 1 p.m., he said.

Jillian Curtis sat at a cafeteria table with nine girlfriends from Catonsville Middle School, hoping they'll be able to find their classes when the older students arrive.

With upperclassmen's eyes on them the second day of school, she said, "it'll be scarier."

Sun staff writers Hanah Cho, Gina Davis and Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.

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