9-year-old Elkridge pupil displays her political knowledge for the lieutenant governor

education notebook

September 03, 2006|By John-John Williams IV

When Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele visited at Elkridge Elementary School on Monday, 9-year-old Sydney Young got to show off her political smarts.

The fifth-grader's hand immediately shot into the air when her teacher, Nick Gough, asked the class the identity of their special guest. Sydney rattled off a few biographical facts about Steele with ease.

Her confidence and knowledge impressed Steele and high-ranking school system officials, including Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and Chief of Staff Mamie J. Perkins.

Steele then joked with Sydney Young, and said: "I'll see you in Annapolis."

After Steele's five-minute visit, the 9-year-old gushed about her encounter with the politician.

"I think he was really exciting," she said. "It was really cool."

Morning of first day

Whether it was with a quick walk on the treadmill or a Pop-Tart, students and staff members used different morning rituals to prepare for the first day of school.

The superintendent started his morning with a fruit cup and a cup of apple juice.

"I usually get a light breakfast," Cousin said.

Connie Fowlkes, an assistant principal at Elkridge Elementary School, woke up at 5 a.m., hopped on a treadmill, then had her usual breakfast of oatmeal and tea.

"It was a beautiful morning," Fowlkes said as she greeted parents Monday.

Taye and Alysia Jeffries -- siblings in kindergarten and second grade at Elkridge Elementary -- ate a huge breakfast, said their mother, April Jeffries.

"They had an egg-and-cheese sandwich, and a Pop-Tart," Jeffries said.

Diane Mumford, principal at Elkridge Elementary, got up at 5 a.m. and made a list of last-minute things to do at school before her pupils arrived.

"I then checked all the rooms," Mumford said. "I wanted to attend to last-minute details."

Adrianne Kaufman, principal of Reservoir High, woke up at 5 a.m. so she could be at school by 6:30 a.m.

"I did not have any breakfast," Kaufman said. "I had coffee. I always have a cup of coffee."

How did she drink it?

"Sweet'N Low and fat-free French vanilla cream. How's that for details?"

Bus problems

School board member Courtney Watson was not expecting to have to drive two of her three children to school on the first day.

She had made sure her children were up, dressed and ready to seize the day. The only problem was that two of their buses arrived early.

"We think there were two different times listed," said Watson, who has children at Marriotts Ridge High, Mount View Middle and Manor Woods Elementary. "The high-schooler and middle-schooler missed the bus."

The Watsons were not the only Howard County family to experience bus angst during the first week of school.

Problems with buses at Atholton High School resulted in the school sending out an announcement through the school's online newsletter.

David C. Drown, director of pupil transportation, said a few problems are inevitable when 423 buses transport almost 39,000 students.

"Things will go wrong," Drown said.

A shortage of certified drivers resulted in the delayed and incorrect arrival time of buses, Drown said.

"It caused overcrowding and caused us to be late in our arrival," he said.

The lack of drivers also resulted in a last-minute redistribution of bus routes the Friday evening before school started, Drown said.

"They had done dry runs for different runs," Drown explained. "Because of that, it was hard for us to make our schedules the first few days. Moms want to take pictures and kiss their kids goodbye. That also slows us down.

"We hope, over time, that we can attract and retain more drivers and get them behind the wheel. But the labor pool in Howard County is really not sufficient for our needs. We are the third-wealthiest county in the nation. Many of our new drivers cannot afford to live here."

SAT scores

Although Howard County experienced an overall decline in SAT scores, the county saw increases among some minority groups.

For example, Hispanic students increased 17 points in reading to 508, and by one point to 509, in mathematics.

"It is too early to decide what made the difference," said Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "But we can assume that the supports we have put in place for our various student groups are beginning to show results."

During the past school year, the system held workshops for the Arab, Korean, and Hispanic communities and for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, explaining high school assessments and graduation requirements.

On the SATs, African-Americans increased a point in mathematics to 466, while reading dropped from 479 to 470.

Overall, Howard County students dropped 13 points in reading from a year ago to 539 and by two points in mathematics to 559.

Asian students dropped by 30 points in reading to 544 and nine points in mathematics to 614.

"We have a lot of interesting data to take a look at here," Caplan said, when asked about specific drops.

Student aide injured

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