Christinia Armstrong, a music teacher and PTA president at Hammond Elementary School in Laurel, stood amid a cluster of African drums looking for the proper one to play for Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and school board chairman Frank Aquino. She grabbed an hourglass-shaped drum, positioned it under her arm and rhythmically gave it a series of bops with her right hand.
"Good morning," she said as she matched each syllable to each hand tap. "This is why they call it the African talking drum."
Their laughter was interrupted when they saw a class quietly lined up outside Armstrong's music room, ready for their first music class on the first day of school.
"They are ready with their recorders and music," Armstrong said referring to the students. "Rock on! Welcome to the new school year."
Cousin and Aquino spent Monday visiting five schools, an annual tradition for top-ranking school system officials in Howard County. This year, the school system welcomed 49,138 students - an increase of 250 - and 4,563 teachers, which included 200 new hires.
"The enthusiasm shown today, we hope to continue throughout the year," Cousin said later as he left for his fifth school, Gorman Crossing Elementary in Laurel. "Our expectation is that every day will be like the opening day where kids and staff are enthusiastic and engaged."
"They are getting off to a very smooth start," Aquino said. "As a parent, it is amazing that after a few minutes everyone is on task."
The first-day visit is an opportunity for Cousin to meet with staff and students.
"Your MSA scores are impressive," Cousin said to Hammond Elementary's principal, Judy Bland, as they walked through the halls of the school.
"They better be," Bland said with a laugh. "You have to have those high expectations. High expectations are the way every student can learn."
At Hammond Middle, Principal Kerry McGowan said many of her students were excited to have Cousin visit the school.
"The kids were like, 'Is that the boss?' " she said with a laugh. "It means a lot to the kids. The kids recognized him right away."