At new school, freshmen and sophomores rule

Marriotts Ridge: The county's newest and largest high school opens with 600 students - none of them upperclassmen.

August 31, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Courtney DiLeonardi finished teaching her first class at Marriotts Ridge High School just past 9 a.m.

It was a relief for the first-year Spanish teacher, who went to bed by 9 the night before so that she would be prepared for the first day of school.

"I woke up a couple of times ... having dreams about school," DiLeonardi recalled.

First-day jitters and excitement were not exclusive to the more than 48,000 county students, who started a new school year Monday. Especially at Marriotts Ridge, where students and staff were opening the county's newest and largest high school.

"It's new for everyone; it's not just new for the kids," said Paul Eckert, a Gifted and Talented Program teacher who greeted students at the front entrance.

In many ways, the first day at Marriotts Ridge was like any other. There were freshmen getting lost, students late to class and stacks of papers to take home.

And no surprise - homework.

"You have to write a page-long autobiography," Tyler Dunn, a freshman, said of his social studies assignment.

In classes throughout the school, teachers went over rules against drinking, drugs, cheating and plagiarism, among the litany of school system policies.

"Bottom line, no alcohol, drugs or tobacco," Eckert told more than a dozen 10th-graders in his advisory class.

Still, there was no denying Marriotts Ridge's uniqueness. Upper-class students were nowhere to be found because the school opened with 600 freshmen and sophomores as part of the school system's redistricting plan.

Staff members had an extra week to prepare for their students, attending several meet-and-greet sessions with other teachers and administrators.

Building a community and being positive will be the focus for students and teachers throughout the transitional year at Marriotts Ridge.

Katie Lackler, 15, a sophomore who attended Mount Hebron High School last year, likes her classes and teachers.

"The transition has been really easy," Lackler said as she ate her ham and turkey sandwich. "Obviously, I'd rather not have changed schools because you get accustomed, but considering the circumstances it's pretty good."

Several sophomores recognized the advantages and disadvantages of being the oldest at the school.

"I like not being bossed around by seniors," said Rohit Kamesh, a sophomore.

As the quasi-seniors, sophomores have the opportunity to be leaders of the school, said Abby Schwarz.

"I think it's really special," she said. "We're the only one in the history of the school to be in this position."

Still, as another sophomore Kathleen Molinaro pointed out with a laugh, "I like having seniors ... older boys."

No first day of school is complete without a few technical glitches. At Marriotts Ridge, the front office had a slight problem with the bell system, which was quickly resolved.

Then there was the air-conditioning leak outside the auditorium that was discovered Sunday during the school's open house. Two plastic garbage bins collected dripping water.

The school has some unfinished construction work, including the gym where the floor has to be replaced because of an accident. In the meantime, students will use the auxiliary gym until the main one opens in October, said Principal Patrick Saunderson.

As the school day approached midmorning, Saunderson took a short breather at the school's atrium and liked what he was seeing.

Saunderson walked in and out of classrooms, observing his staff and students at work.

"It's been a long time coming, but it's something exciting to look forward to. Now, it's here, it's incredible," he said.

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