Baltimore County schools drop staggered start dates

Sixth-, ninth-graders won't have run of buildings on first class day

Metro: News from around the Baltimore region

July 19, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Sixth- and ninth-graders in Baltimore County will no longer have the buildings to themselves on their first day in their new schools.

School officials have banned a longstanding practice at some county middle and high schools of staggered starts - when only sixth- and ninth-graders attend school on the first day, and their older peers join them on the second day.

In August, all students will start school at the same time.

The staggered starts were never part of a formal policy, said Charles A. Herndon, school district spokesman, adding that principals of each school had decided whether to participate. Schools officials did not have an exact count yesterday of how many schools had participated in the past.

"There were several [principals] who thought the additional day would be beneficial," Herndon said. "However, it was not beneficial to students who were not in school."

In Anne Arundel County, schools officials did away with staggered starts two years ago for similar reasons.

Other school districts around the state, including Harford County and Carroll County, have not had staggered starts, and have instead relied on orientations.

Baltimore County principals, who were informed of the change in May, also were told to come up with ways to ease the transition for younger students.

Philip Taylor, principal of Cockeysville Middle School, said that even though his school had sometimes used staggered starts in the past, that was just one of several methods used to make the first day less scary. Getting rid of the staggered starts, he said, won't be a big deal.

In the spring, Taylor said, he goes to all the elementary schools that feed into his school and meets with the fifth-graders. He also holds an open house the week before school starts so incoming pupils can try out their lockers and meet their teachers.

"That's the key activity, the thing I would not ever want to lose," Taylor said of the open house.

Also on the first day, Taylor said, sixth-graders will have a longer lunch period and will be dismissed early from their last classes so they don't miss their buses.

Like many rising high school freshmen, Lauren Dellman, 14, has been worried about her first day at Dulaney High School in August. But she's more worried now.

She remembers her first day at Ridgely Middle School as being fun.

"I was able to navigate with less students and it wasn't as stressful," she said.

Lauren's father, Jeff Dellman, said he thought the staggered starts were helpful.

"I don't think they should get rid of it, but I'm not going to stress," he said.

Staff writers Josh Mitchell and Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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