New Pasadena Elementary opens Jan. 4 on adjacent lot

For school, a `bittersweet' transition

December 23, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

When the new Pasadena Elementary School opens Jan. 4, Debbie Jester will get everything -- new rugs, new baby dolls -- for her kindergarten classroom.

She would get nervous when students kicked the occasional ball toward one of her classroom windows in the old school during recess. The impact jars loose the putty that plugs up the windows.

But Jester couldn't help getting choked up Wednesday when she heard the announcements on the last day of classes for the 52-year-old school.

She was a member of its inaugural first-grade class in 1955. Her mother, Sara Titus, taught music at the time. Her daughter has attended the school. Now her niece, Kelsey Riegger, is part of the fifth grade, which will be the first to graduate from the new building.

"I've teared up a couple of times today," said Jester, who surveyed her oversized kindergarten classroom. In the new school, the kindergartners will be split among three classrooms. "It is bittersweet that I see this building close."

In 2001, the Anne Arundel County school system decided to replace one of the last few three-story schools in the county, rather than renovate it. The current building, which replaced an older schoolhouse, opened in 1955 on 14 acres. An addition was built in 1963.

The new 68,000-square-foot building, adjacent to the current one, will have two floors and an elevator, making it handicap-accessible. Principal Janis Horn said injured students found it difficult to hobble up the stairs on crutches and grandparents in wheelchairs couldn't join their grandchildren upstairs on the annual grandparents' day in the spring.

The new school, which cost $20 million, has central air-conditioning, a perk for the cafeteria staff. Although the rest of the old building had window air-conditioning units, the kitchen did not.

The new building has a cafeteria that is separate from the gym. That means physical education classes won't have to stop early to allow workers to set up for lunch, Horn said.

Joan Kern, a cafeteria worker, is excited about the increased space but nostalgic for the building that has been a part of her family for generations.

Her great-grandmother shoveled coal for the old schoolhouse before becoming a custodian in the current building. Her other great-grandmother worked in the current school's kitchen. Kern's father, John Appleton III, was a part of the first graduating class of the school in 1960. Kern and her sister, Lisa Appleton Stokes, went to the school in the 1970s. Kern's daughter, Rebecca, is in fifth grade there now.

Of all the things Kern will miss, it will be the "clinging" noise the heaters made, she said. She liked to think it was her relatives letting her know they were still there.

"I feel like my relatives are roaming in this school and watching over me," Kern said.

Rebecca, who spoke at the groundbreaking last year, said she and other students couldn't wait to see what the new school looks like.

"I'm sad a little because my family has so many memories here," Rebecca said. Still, she is excited about the new library, and she thinks the new school's white boards will be better than the current chalkboards. "It's probably better for my allergies."

Teachers said they are excited about the new building's technology. Each classroom has a document projector mounted in the ceiling to display handouts on roll-down screens. Some classrooms will have interactive SMART boards, which will display text from a computer screen onto a white board.

"It's high-tech," said Michelle Lory, a special education teacher. "I can't wait for everybody to see it."

Some former students and teachers were upset that the current building will be torn down next year to make way for playground space, said Horn, the principal. Some people inquired about buying bricks as keepsakes. Construction workers advised against it because of asbestos problems in the building, Horn said.

So the school decided to raffle off the letters that formed the school's nameplate. The raffle took place at a farewell ice cream social Dec. 13.

Jester managed to secure an "S" for her mother, Sara, before the raffle began. She thought it would make a fitting Christmas present.

Lexi Duncan, a fifth-grader, won the letter "Y" in the raffle. Her grandmother, Kathy Fowler, attended Pasadena Elementary and went to the social to say goodbye to the school.

"I know it meant a lot to her when I won it," Lexi said.

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