Excitement ran high, Tuesday morning, as the first students ever at the new Liberty Middle School started arriving. Built to ease overcrowding at Rocky Run and Stone middle schools, the new $25.3 million school on Union Mill Road holds 1,250 students and opened with some 1,110.
Kathy Quigley, one of Liberty's three assistant principals, greeted children in front of the school as they exited their buses. They were among an estimated 166,072 students returning to school Tuesday in Fairfax County.
"This is what we've been working for," said Quigley. "We have such a dynamic staff, and everyone's raring to go. At Friday's orientation, there was so much excitement and enthusiasm, and I know it'll carry over through the rest of the year."
Principal Audra Sydnor, also outside to welcome students, was pleased with her school's first day. "We had a wonderful day — things went extremely well," she said. "Because of orientation, the students knew where their classes and lockers were — and they knew how to open their lockers, too. The students felt comfortable with their teachers and administrators, and it set the tone."
Quigley praised Liberty's PTA for all its hard work. "Our PTA has been working from the beginning, and the support the teachers feel from it is overwhelming," she said. "It's such a unique group of people that came together to make Liberty happen. We're all eager to watch it [take shape]."
She's also thrilled with the quality of the instructional materials at the school, as well as the "beautiful building, color scheme and natural light." And seventh-grade, autism teacher Cathy Thornton was delighted with the school's technology. "It's probably the most up-to-date system there could be," she said. "It's great being brand new and having all this support."
Also on hand for Liberty's big day was Cluster VII Director Carma Norman. "I think this school is just beautiful," she said. "And you can see the excitement in the kids' eyes — I love that."
Eighth-grader Austin Monroe, formerly of Rocky Run Middle, was excited about seeing all his new friends. Although "nervous about how I'm gonna do this year in school," he didn't mind switching schools because he could see "how I'm gonna interact in a new environment." He's also looking forward to his music-participation class and playing different instruments.
Classmate Michael Sollom was also glad to come to Liberty because "I knew most of my friends are coming here." He said it's easy to get around inside the school because "it's all separated in pods for your core classes." He's excited about learning a new language, Spanish, this year, joining after-school clubs and being on the school basketball team.
Hailing from Bull Run Elementary was seventh-grader Sara Dolinger. Coming to Liberty is exciting, she said, because "it's all new and it's gonna be a lot of fun. There's a lot of clubs and stuff, and I want to do sports — basketball and volleyball. She's also eager to begin her Inventions and Innovations science class: "It's a very cool lab."
Fresh from Cub Run Elementary, Brianna Alarie called Liberty "nice" and said she was happy returning to school. And eighth-grader Saurav Khanal, from Stone Middle, said Liberty is "the same [design] as my summer school [Rachel Carson Middle], so I know my way around." His favorite classes are French and art, and he thinks the school is "pretty cool because everything's new and we're the first ones to use it."
Darien Hurdle, an eighth-grader, wants to play basketball there. He said Liberty is "cleaner and has a lot more stuff" than his former school — which also had more students. "I like the numbers here," he said. "It has less people." Classmate Jim Palmer felt likewise and said he wants to get good grades at Liberty.
Seventh-grader Jacqueline Rosas said, "I was scared at the beginning, but now it's fun because all my friends are here. And you don't have the same teacher all day." She's looking forward to math and history because "those are the cool teachers I have."
She and friend Mary Jimenez both bought new pants that lace up the sides, for school, and Mary also got a new Northern Peaks Gear binder. Mary hopes to "achieve good grades in math and teen living." Friend Suzanne Miller, who attended Bull Run with both girls, was pleased because "the lockers open good." But that's not all.
"The lecture hall is awesome because it's so big," she said. "I've never seen one before. All my teachers are so nice, and the computer lab has brand-new computers." She's also excited about taking theater arts after her teen-living elective.
<bt>Just down the street from Liberty, students streamed back to Centreville High. "I'm happy to be back here, but a little nervous about my new classes," said junior Katie Korman. "I'm taking AP classes in English and American history. It's a lot more work, but I'm looking forward to it."
Junior Jessica Broussard was reuniting with friends and, she said, "I've already started in marching-band camp, so I've gotten used to getting up early." She plays the second bass drum and is looking forward to football season and performing during halftime.
Sophomore Eric Frady is eager to play sports. He plays outside linebacker on the Wildcat JV and varsity football teams and expects Westfield to be Centreville's toughest opponent this year. One thing he's not looking forward to, though, is homework.
Freshman Jasmine Williams chatted with friends in the hallway, catching her breath before classes began. So far, she'd had a hectic morning. "It was crazy," she said. "I didn't know where my bus stop was. I had to cross Old Centreville Road, and I was afraid I was gonna get hit [by a car]." So how does she feel about being in high school? Giggling, she said, "I'm excited to see some buns — some boys."
Classmate Melissa Steinberg had butterflies, too, but was "kind of excited coming to a new school." She planned to possibly take drama classes. Jessica Thomas was eager to begin freshman cheerleading.
Sophomore Anish Unni was looking forward to taking business computer-programming and joining some clubs.
James Park, a freshman, was a bit hesitant about his new environment, but is serious about "getting a good education." His favorite classes are math and band, and he'll play soprano sax in one of Centreville's concert bands.
Junior Herman Singh also hopes for good grades, and is looking forward to visiting his country, India, in December. And senior Shakir Shahabuddin was sad to see summer end. "I had so much fun — I hung out with my friends and went to New York with my brother," he said. What's he looking forward to: "Graduating."
Then, the hustle-bustle in the school hallways stopped as everyone froze in place for a moment of silence before classes began. Principal Pam Latt then led the Pledge of Allegiance over the P.A. system, welcomed students back to school and read them Colin Powell's rules of life.
They included: "Nothing is as bad as you think; get mad and then get over it; there's a lot more to life than one test, one team, one game; anything can be accomplished with effort; work hard — it'll feel good; think things through and don't do things you don't feel right about; remain calm and be kind to everyone; and, perpetual optimism is a powerful force — it makes you feel great."
After school, Latt called it a "fabulous" day. "It couldn't have been better," she said. "The kids were wonderful and were ready to come back. The staff was great, and it was a day that people enjoyed." She was glad to see many upperclassmen help the freshmen find their way around. And she said the new freshmen seemed "very well prepared."
<mh>Chantilly and Westfield
<bt>At Westfield High, Principal Dale Rumberger called the first day "awesome," with minimum questions and confusion. Enrollment was 2,741 students, and he said they came prepared and ready to learn. He hired 54 new teachers and said it was neat to see the school's first freshman as juniors now: "Watching them grow — that's what it's all about."
At Chantilly, Principal Tammy Turner said things went well and students were in class when they were supposed to be. "It was very smooth, and everybody seemed happy," she said. "The teachers talked about what a remarkable group of kids they have and said they seem to get better every year. It was a great day — give me 182 just like this."
With 2,540 students, Turner said the school's crowded, but not like years past. She was impressed with how well the freshmen got to classes. And she said Chantilly Academy Administrator John Wittmann negotiated with the Chantilly Regional Library, across the street, to get additional parking for the school's three shifts of academy students.
"We had 33 spaces, and now we have 30 more," said Turner. "And here, because our senior class is smaller this year, we're able to accommodate all the seniors [in the regular school] and almost all the juniors who wanted parking spaces."
<bt>Clifton Elementary Principal Dorothy Hughes said things went swimmingly there, too. "It was wonderful," she said. "Spirits are high for another positive school year." Centreville Elementary Principal Jim Latt called it an "excellent start to the school year."
Poplar Tree Elementary is raising money for a second wireless mobile lab with 20 laptop computers. Principal Denise Chase said the first day of school is "the best day of the new year." Standing in the hallway, she said, "Look at the children — they're all so happy, and not one parent cried."
Bearing out her words was mom Lama Hamdam, whose son Hassan, 5 1/2, was starting his first day of kindergarten there. "I was so happy," she said. "I feel like he's growing up now. He was excited and woke up early in the morning."
Fifth-grader Caitlin Hughes was glad to see her friends and teachers, and third-grader Eric Hernandez was looking forward to math and called school "fun." Chris Albrigo, 10, wished he had a longer summer "because I like having all that free time and not having to do piles of homework." But he can hardly wait until Poplar Tree's medieval fair.
Third-grader Kyle Stangroom is thrilled because, this year, "at recess, we get to play on the big kids' playground. And in buddy class, we'll be the older buddies to a first-grade class." Deanna Parnham, 11, wants to improve in math and reading, and sixth-grader Stephanie Peters was delighted that her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Gomez, is her homeroom teacher: "She's really nice and was the best teacher I ever had."