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First Day of School Eventful

Chantilly High junior Mike Keifer, 16, headed for his school's entrance, Tuesday morning, for the first day of the new school year. And for the most part, he was glad to be there.

"It's cool," he said. "I'm not excited about getting up early, but I get to come back and see all my friends. And I'm looking forward to sports."

Keifer was among the more than 166,000 students streaming back to school in Fairfax County on a hot, humid day that still seemed like summer. And as they returned, many of the students were filled with mixed emotions.

"It doesn't feel like it's time, yet, for school to begin," said junior Heather Hilton, 16. "But I like not having to take the bus — I drive now." And as a lacrosse player, she was also eager for the new season to start.

Fresh from Rocky Run Middle School, 14-year-old Danielle Stagno approached her first day of high school with a combination of fear and anticipation. "I'm scared because it's new and I'm not sure how it's gonna be," she said. "But I'm looking forward to making friends and getting my driving permit, and I'm doing field hockey."

Freshman Christian Johnson, 14, liked seeing new people and planned to try out for basketball. He said world history is his favorite subject. And a still-sleepy Noelle Albert, a 16-year-old junior, was jazzed about her journalism class since she'll be the opinion-section editor of her school newspaper, The Purple Tide.

As for freshman Melissa Atkinson, 14 — wearing a new, dark-blue Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt for the first day — she could hardly wait to begin high school. "It's exciting," she said. So what's she looking forward to most? "Cute guys."

Although the students were younger, the scene at Stone Middle School, on Tuesday, was much the same. Eighth-grader Laura Schweinhart was sorry summer was ending, but she was eager to find out her class schedule and begin art. Classmate Brandon Holmberg, 13, likes math best and was all ready to meet his "new teachers and stuff."

Decked out in a new, blue-and-red, Hard Knocks football jersey and new tan Timberland shoes, Rhasheem Squirewell, 13, said she was "looking forward to a good year" in eighth grade. Joseph Rhim, 14, said he'd "rather be home watching TV," but Casey Ea, 13, said it felt "great" returning to Stone and he wants to play trumpet in the school's symphonic band.

Seventh-grader Britney Kalmar, 12 — a Cub Run Elementary grad — was glad to be back with her friends and "start a new year in a new school." Added Britney: "Since my sister is in ninth grade, I know what to do and what not to do."

Likewise, classmate Kristen Utter, 12, said it "feels really good" to return to school and she looked forward to home economics and English. "It's gonna be nice switching classes," she said. "And I'm away from my brother, who's going into sixth grade. But it's only for a year, unfortunately."

<sh>Stone Middle

<bt>Stone has 1,185 students, compared to 1,138 in June, and eight new staff members — regular and special-ed teachers, two counselors and an eighth-grade assistant principal, Zena Chapman. Formerly in that post was Robin Mentzer, now acting director of student services.

The school is in its second year of the Professional Learning Communities framework. Last year, teacher collaboration was introduced. "This year, the rubber hits the road," said Principal Ken Gaudreault. "We developed a master schedule to support both it and the middle-school philosophy. We formed teams — four seventh-grade and four eighth-grade — of core-curriculum teachers, with about 145 students on each team."

Except for electives, students have these teachers all year. So, said Gaudreault, "The communication is more intensive, and the teachers have the same planning period off and can discuss the same children together. They can also talk about instruction, curriculum and best practices and can even have team meetings with parents or children."

Stone also provides teachers time during the school day — instead of after school — to meet as a department. "It's pretty neat," said Gaudreault. "And twice a week, we developed the bell schedule to afford time to support children at risk and to celebrate children who are successful."

The school also challenged each department to devise a universal project that may be used across all the curriculum, employing student reading, writing, research and outline skills. Stone is in its second year of a seventh-grade honors pilot program and, this year, is piloting an honor program for eighth-graders.

It's also introducing a "Distance Learning" classroom experience. "This past year, we reached out to a school in England," said Gaudreault. "We're partnering with the Warriner School in Oxfordshire. We've applied for grants and also put away money for this. We're also speaking to Canada, Germany, France, Finland and Uganda about joining this program."

Stone purchased state-of-the-art equipment enabling students in England to watch Stone students in class via TV and computer, and students here can watch them. "It's broadband, over the Internet, with a clear visual," said Gaudreault. "We can have discussions about books and can even go on virtual field trips to different places. Hopefully, we'll install the equipment this fall."

<sh>Brookfield Elementary

<bt>Meanwhile, things are also exciting at Brookfield Elementary. The first day of school "went pretty smoothly," said Principal Kim Brown. "It was quite busy, but we didn't lose anybody and everybody got home."

Probably what pleases her the most, she said, is having full-day kindergarten for the first time. The school has five classes and — while they're expected to be beneficial for the students in them — going to school all day can take a little getting used to, especially when you're new at it.

Case in point was one, little girl who got so tuckered out that she just drifted off to dreamland in the cafeteria. "She was so keyed up and tired that she fell asleep right at the lunch table," said Brown. "She was getting adjusted to the full day and she couldn't make it 'til nap time."

Otherwise, she said, things at Brookfield are going swimmingly. The 830-student enrollment is about the same as last year, but the school added one duplex trailer. It now has 10 classrooms outside; four third-grades are in trailers and one is in the building.

Some 12 new classroom teachers and specialists joined the staff. Brookfield also got a new assistant principal, Eric Sprung, to replace Ed Smith who returned home to Pennsylvania to become principal of an elementary school there. And the school added more time to its schedule for music and art.

It's also opening five minutes later, this year, to coordinate dismissal with the arrival of the buses from Chantilly High. And Brookfield's teachers are delighted about the school system's "primary grades laptop initiative."

As a result, kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers will get wireless laptop computers, this month, and third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade teachers will receive them in December. Explained Brown: "Because so much of the testing data has to be posted online, having laptops allows teachers to do some of this work at home."

Brookfield has something new for parents, too. Through the Fairfax County Adult Education office, it's now offering Family Literacy for adult speakers of other languages. Classes are at the school, Tuesday and Thursday, from 7-9 p.m., and children come, too. Adults learn English, and the children are involved in storytelling and practice reading.

Overall, said Brown, the school had a great opening. "People were very energized and feeling positive," she said. "The PTA's been active all summer, getting things ready." Brookfield even held a special orientation, last week, just for new families, before its Aug. 28 open house. "It was very well-received," said Brown. "About 200 people came. Were glad to be back, and we're moving right along."