Wrong schedules, some tougher policies can't dim excitement of first day of school

All in all, a smooth start

August 30, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Ashley Taylor was not looking forward to the spiel that Reservoir High School Principal Adrianne Kaufman had for sophomores this week. Taylor had heard it all before - after all, she's a junior this year.

But a scheduling mix-up put Ashley in a sophomore advisory class temporarily, which resulted in Ashley having to attend a sophomore pep-rally on the opening day of school.

"I'm mad," Ashley said. "They should do something better with the schedule."

In Howard County, 48,360 students returned to 71 schools this week, including the newly opened Dayton Oaks Elementary, a $21.5 million, 678-student facility. And even if there were a few wrinkles - like those at Reservoir - it was all part of the typical first-week-of-school mix of nerves, frustration and excitement.

Kaufman said she and her staff worked tirelessly to make sure that problems were corrected, but conceded that initial bumps are inevitable.

"Regardless of the year, we always have challenges we face in that first week," said Kaufman. "We really didn't face challenges that were any different from the past."

Monday's opening day included visits to seven schools by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who greeted students returning to higher lunch prices; a strengthened anti-bullying policy; and a new wellness policy that eliminates the sale of high-fat, high-sugar snacks and sodas during the school day.

Cousin's first stop was an hourlong visit to Howard High School, site of a major renovation that included a new cafeteria.

"I'm always excited," said Cousin. "I always tell people `Happy New Year' because it is a celebration of a new year. ... I want to keep the enthusiasm up the rest of the year."

Cousin was joined by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele at Elkridge Elementary School, where the two visited several classrooms and met with parents.

Katie Danieli practically dragged her mother into Elkridge Elementary on Monday morning.

"Mom, I want to go!" Katie, 5, yelled as her tight, red ringlets bounced with each step.

Donna Danieli was almost on the verge of tears on her daughter's first day of kindergarten.

"I'm sad," Danieli said. "She's my baby."

At this Katie exclaimed, "I'm not a baby, Mom!"

Danieli added: "She's ready. I'm not."

Dante and April Jeffries of Elkridge were overcome by a mix of excitement and sadness Monday as they waited with their two children, Alysia and Taye, to start the first day of school at Elkridge Elementary. Taye is a kindergartner; Alysia, a second-grader, was an old pro.

"I'm excited but a little bit nervous," admitted Dante Jeffries.

Alysia, 7, said she was looking forward to having her little brother start school.

"I get to play with him more," said Alysia as she clutched her pink Hello Kitty backpack. "I get to be a big sister."

That excitement wasn't limited to the youngest students. Sean Quinn, a 14-year-old freshman at Reservoir, said he was eager to start the new year in high school.

"It's much bigger and there are a lot of different kinds of people," said Sean, as he waited for the freshman pep rally to begin.

Sean's friend Robby Greer said he wasn't worried about starting his freshman year at Reservoir; both attended Hammond Middle School last year.

"I have an older brother here," Robby, 14, explained. "I probably won't get picked on. I'm just focused on being on the football team and getting playing time."

Things went pretty smoothly for Sean and Robby- freshmen at Reservoir received their schedules last week during orientation. But sophomores, juniors, and seniors had to wait until this week to receive their classes.

Though the delay was caused by what officials called human error, they said that problem could have been corrected in time for the start of classes if school employees had not been tied up with the Student Management System, or SMS, a problematic student-data program.

And even after the schedules were distributed late, some students complained that their classes were not correct.

Tony Antoniades, a 16-year-old junior at Reservoir, said he did not get a first-period class.

"I went to guidance and they just told me to pick a class," Tony said. "Our school isn't speedy."

Kaufman said school officials were busy ironing out such problems.

"Their conflicts are being resolved, and we were very pleased with the success of the day," Kaufman said yesterday.

On Monday, she said, "we had several visitors, and there wasn't a student in the hallway. Teachers were teaching, things ran as usual."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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