First through the doors as schools reopen

For some, an adventure at new or renovated buildings

August 26, 2008|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,

Whether going off to a newly constructed school in the suburbs or a newly created school in a renovated building in the city, several lucky groups of students shared the same sense of adventure yesterday: They were the first to walk through the doors.

Across Maryland, about 850,000 students started class yesterday, but these students are starting their own traditions. At the new Vincent Farm Elementary School in White Marsh, the joy was expressed most simply by a kindergartner as she played hopscotch on her classroom rug.

"I like my new school. Hip, hip hooray!" said Carmelli Leal, 5.

For ninth-grader Myiesha Harper, the reaction was a bit more thoughtful. She had chosen an experimental middle/high school, rather than one of Baltimore's well-established high schools, "because it is a new school, and I wanted to see what it had to offer."

Started by a group of city school teachers, the new Civitas Middle/High emphasizes public service and public policy. It opened yesterday with 75 sixth-graders and 75 ninth-graders.

Whether reacting to increasing demand in a geographic area or replacing old buildings, several school districts have built schools. Baltimore County opened its elementary schools yesterday; Carroll and Anne Arundel counties will do the same today and tomorrow. Baltimore City had the greatest number of new ventures, with five started to improve education for middle school and high school students.

At Vincent Farm in Baltimore County, eager students and their families started arriving well before the 9 a.m. start time. "In some ways, it's a birthday," Principal Anne Gold said about the first day at the Ebenezer Road school.

The school building features an environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling system; classrooms have interactive white boards and data projectors.

Nantucket Elementary, a $24.6 million school opening in Anne Arundel, also has whiteboards. The updated version of the blackboard/overhead projector can display images from a computer on a large touch screen, allowing teachers to seamlessly access the Internet and lesson plans.

Though Nantucket does not open until tomorrow, students and relatives streamed in for a meet-and-greet with teachers.

Janice Andrysiak, 73, with camera in hand, visited yesterday with her grandchildren, Jennifer Little, a fifth-grader, and Patrick Little, a third-grader.

"This is a beautiful, beautiful school," said Andrysiak, of Crofton.

Carroll County was to open Ebb Valley Elementary School in Manchester, the 42nd school in the system.

Principal Robert Mitchell said, "We've got a lot of new space, new technology, a lot of beautiful furniture. The building sparkles."

To some degree, parents take risks by agreeing to put their children in a school with no track record. And at Friendship Academy for Engineering and Technology in Baltimore, the principal met with parents for part of the morning to answer questions and allay concerns. Renee Toppin said she chose Friendship for her son because of its emphasis on preparing all of its students for college. She said she was excited to "have a school that was already focused on the next level."

"It is a different opportunity from the regular public school," said LaChelle Wright, the mother of a sixth-grader.

Howard County, a school system that has built 35 schools since 1981, is one of the few school systems not opening a new one this year. "It's the first time in 20 years," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who toured seven schools yesterday with Board of Education Chairman Frank Aquino.

"That is because our population growth has slowed. We've stayed ahead of the curve by providing facilities as needed." said Aquino.

No new schools have been built in Harford County this year, but the first day of school brought excitement even for middle-schoolers. At Fallston Middle School, Clark Stratmeyer, 13, said he was looking forward to Spanish class. "I've always wanted to learn a new language," he said.

Sixth-graders Rachel Noyes and Toria Smith, both 11, were nervous about their first day with the big kids. "If you walk into the wrong class, you get embarrassed," said Rachel. Both girls had carefully selected their first-day outfits, and Toria wore blindingly white New Balances.

Reporters Nicole Fuller, Liz F. Kay, David Kohn and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

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