Anticipation builds for school

Full-day kindergarten stirs excitement for little ones and a veteran teacher

August 26, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

With the ease of a poker dealer, veteran teacher Judy Maurer placed colorful name cards decorated with images of crayons on tables as she scrambled to put the finishing touches on her kindergarten room. In a few moments, the cards would be spotted by a new crop of students and parents attending Ilchester Elementary School's open house.

Maurer, a team leader at the school, moved with a nervous excitement. After teaching third grade for 11 years, she had decided to teach kindergarten, which is being offered at Ilchester in Ellicott City as a full-day program for the first time when classes begin tomorrow.

"Starting a new grade is like starting teaching again," Maurer said as she placed packets filled with emergency contact information at each of her 21 students' seats Thursday. "There are so many different things to do. The curriculum is different. Materials need to be prepared. ... I have such enthusiasm for it."

Many Howard County schools held open houses last week to welcome students and ease the transition to the start of classes tomorrow morning.

This year, about 48,500 students - an increase of more than 200 from last year - are expected to attend Howard County public schools.

Ten county schools will offer full-day kindergarten for the first time this year. They are the last of the 38 elementary schools that have added full-day kindergarten in what has been a four-year transition process.

The change, ordered at all Maryland public elementary schools, cost Howard County $19 million for additional teachers and kindergarten classrooms, which require more instructional space. Ilchester, for example, is in the process of adding two more kindergarten classes to increase its total to four.

John Morningstar, Ilchester's principal, welcomes the addition of full-day kindergarten. He went through the process of adding full-day kindergarten four years ago as principal at Phelps Luck.

"Everyone is on the same schedule," said Morningstar, referring to the elimination of morning and afternoon kindergarten classes. "It will be a lot better for us."

Educators agree that young learners benefit from full-day kindergarten.

"It bumps down the curriculum," Morningstar said. "Students get information at an earlier age."

Deborah Adams, a kindergarten teacher at Ilchester, said she looks forward to having more time to balance academic learning with social interaction.

"It will be an adjustment period," Adams said as she marked baskets of supplies.

To make the transition to kindergarten teacher, Maurer observed the full-day program at Bellows Spring Elementary. She also spent time crafting lessons to fit the needs of kindergartners, who typically come to school with varying reading abilities.

Maurer said she started setting up her classroom in early August. As recently as Monday night, she was shopping at a teaching-supplies store for last-minute items, she said.

The preparation paid off. Edwina Britt practically had to drag her 5-year-old daughter, Kyra, out of Maurer's classroom during the school's open house.

"I want to stay," Kyra said to her mother when she was told that it was time to leave.

"We're excited about the beginning of school," Krya's mother said as she stood with her two older daughters, Kayla, 11, and Korliss, 9. "I don't think we'll have any problems getting her [Kyra] to go to school. She's been ready to get on the bus for a while."

Chris Butters said her 5-year-old daughter Katie Sloan is also eager for school to start.

"She's ready academically," Butters said as she walked around Maurer's classroom. "I'm looking forward to her being with kids her own age and learning. She's thrilled. She can't wait to get into big-girl school."

Sharon Kim, whose oldest son, Harrison, will begin kindergarten tomorrow, said she is excited that her son will be able to become friends with different types of people.

"He'll get ready for the real world," she said with a giggle. "He's looking forward to seeing his class and meeting new friends."

"Everyone is excited this time of year," Morningstar said. "It's still exciting every year. It's an opportunity to help students. That's what we are all about."

Opening day

The Howard County school system opens tomorrow with about 48,500 students. Here are some other facts:

Schools: 39 elementary, one pre-K through 8; 18 middle; 12 high; 3 special.

One new school: Veterans Elementary in Ellicott City.

One replacement school: Bushy Park Elementary in Glenwood.

Ten schools will add full-day kindergarten: Bushy Park, Centennial Lane, Gorman Crossing, Hammond, Ilchester, Northfield, Rockburn, Waterloo, Waverly and Worthington.

School lunches will increase 25 cents this year. An elementary school lunch will now cost $2.25, and a secondary school lunch will cost $2.75.

[Source: Howard County school system]

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