Ticking Down the Final Days Before School

Ticking Down the Final Days Before School

The last week of summer was a time of preparation and excitement for teachers and administrators at three of Potomac ’s elementary schools.

Ten days before the County’s schools were set to open, and one day before teachers were due to report back to duty, Wayside Elementary School principal Yong-Mi Kim was deep in preparations for the new year. There were the usual things to consider – finalizing class rosters, teacher assignments, and final touches on the school itself. Then, too, there was the scavenger hunt to consider.

As a way to build comeraderie among returning teachers and new teachers at the school and to familiarize them with the area in which their kids came from, Kim and Vice Principal Donna Michela were organizing a scavenger hunt. The half-day activity that would send their teachers throughout the surrounding neighborhoods, down into the Glen, and finally back to the school as they followed clues that helped them learn more about the school and each other.

“It’s our own version of ‘Amazing Race,’” said Michela, comparing the teachers hunt to the popular television show. “They’ll get to see the Glen, they’ll see where their students are from, they’ll follow their bus routes. This kind of thing is really good for teachers, especially the new ones.”

FIVE DAYS before the first day of school, Potomac Elementary School principal Linda Goldberg was counting her blessings.

“It’s a little bit more relaxed here this year,” Goldberg said of the final preparations for the arrival of students. Last year the school received new portable classrooms from the county just days before classes started, and getting the rooms prepped and teachers settled in was hectic, said Goldberg.

Each year brings new challenges to both students and teachers, but it is the constant cycle of renewal and new opportunity that is exciting, said Blake Giliotti, a third grade teacher at Potomac Elementary.

“You know what, you’re never ready,” Giliotti said. “But where else do you get to start over every year? Every year is a new year.”

Changes, big and small, come to schools during the summer for the students to see when they arrive on that first day. At Potomac Elementary the most noticeable result of what Goldberg said was roughly $500,000 that was sunk into the school over the summer is a new library in the heart of the 58-year-old building.

“Everything is new about it,” said Mitch Schorr, the school’s librarian. That includes new wooden book shelves that are lower than the old metal shelves; a fixed stand of two reference computers that replaces a metal cart; new carpeting; new reading tables and chairs; a walled-off teacher workroom; a ceiling-mounted projector; ampitheater seating in one corner, and a circulation desk with a book drop. The biggest change is that instead of being a largely open area in the middle of the school, the library is now its own enclosed room.

“Actually by putting in walls the footprint is smaller, but with lower shelves and an opened up middle it feels bigger,” Schorr said. The goal of the renovation was to make the library more inviting to students.

“The mood, I hope, is one that’s [for] calm, serious work but inviting so that students want to be in here. Not just ‘here’s our library space,’ but ‘I want to be in here,’” said Schorr.

Mission accomplished, said fourth-grader Nicole Menkart who was in the school to meet with some of her teachers.

“I really like it. I really like the [ampitheater] steps; I like how the chairs look and how many tables there are,” Nicole said.

Fifth-grader Justin Spivak agreed.

“It’s very nice, it’s new,” Justin said. “I like the seating… and the nice comfy chairs.”

In addition to the library, every floor in the school was retiled, every wall repainted, and every blackboard replaced with dry-erase marker boards, said Goldberg. On top of those additions and new bathrooms that were renovated at the end of the previous school year, this summer the school’s PTA bought colorful, environmentally-friendly carpet squares made from recycled material to visually warm up each room as well, Goldberg said.

WHEN THE first bell of the new school year had sounded and all of her students were in their classrooms for the first class of the first day of school, Beverly Farms Elementary School principal Beth Brown could finally sit down.

Getting ready for the new school year is a long and difficult process, but it is one that Brown said the staff doesn’t mind.

“It’s exciting,” Brown said. “We work all summer long getting everything ready, and really it starts in the spring with analyzing our students and designing our programs for next year. Then when it all is ready it’s very exciting, it’s like ‘woo-hoo!’”

Enrollment at Beverly Farms is up by nearly twenty students and is teetering on 600, Brown said. As a result of the increased student body, the County gave the school two new portables, the school’s first.

“They’re really nice and new and clean,” Brown said.

The first few days are a chance for returning students to settle back into the swing of things while new students learn the ropes of school, Brown said. Then it’s full speed ahead.

At Beverly Farms that means that programs like the Academic Explorations program for fifth-graders will be under way soon. The program is an elective-type of class in which students work on a project – like putting together a newspaper, a stock-management program, and writing and performing an opera – and see it through from inception to production. A new addition to the program will be an animation class led by teacher Victoria Bardsley where the students will draw characters in a computer program and create a storyline that their creations will follow in an animated world of their design.

The school will also be implementing a new program this year called Playground Coaches, where volunteer parents will work with students on the playground at recess to teach them both the intricacies of different games as well as sportsmanship.

“This really is going to be to help the kids understand how to play the games, sportsmanship, that kind of thing,” Brown said. The school is holding an informational meeting the night of Thursday, August 30 to promote the program and to solicit parent volunteers.

“We’ll give the parents an idea of what the expectations are and we’ll get a sense of what their ideas are,” said Brown.

PARENTS AND STUDENTS likely noticed the new landscaping and benches out front of Wayside as they showed up for school on Monday. The bigger changes, however, are under way in the back of the school where a two-story, ten room addition is beginning construction this fall with an anticipated opening for the next school year.

The addition will sit on top of what used to be the playground area behind the school, meaning that students this year will walk behind fencing and up a hill to another playground during their recess, Kim said. Apart from a valuable addition to the school in the future, the construction process will have a short-term benefit for the school’s students.

“The kids will love it, watching all the big trucks,” Michela said. Once it’s done they will reap the full benefits.

“We’re excited about the addition,” said Kim. “It’s just going to give us a better facility.”

The increase in enrollment capacity that the addition will allow figures to be beneficial, Kim said, as will the construction of a new bus loop and increased parking space that is a part of the project. The parking enhancements should prevent traffic from backing up on Glen Road at the beginning and end of the school day as buses and parents transport students to and from the school, said Kim.

“It’s going to solve a lot of problems both capacity-wise and faculty-wise,” Michela said.

Meanwhile, the school’s continued focus on accelerating their students’ education will continue this year. Wayside has been focusing on getting their kids above grade-level in math for a few years now and Kim said that that trend will carry on seen as all of the school’s kindergartners will take first-grade math this year. Forty percent of the school’s fourth grade students will take sixth grade math and the ultimate goal is to get all of the school’s fifth graders through sixth grade math in the coming years.

“All of the school’s are dabbling in this right now,” Michela said. “We’re having success, which we’re excited about.”

The focus on advancing their students’ learning does not mean that the school has forgotten that its young students – kindergartners, and first and second-graders – need a nurturing environment as well, said Kim.

“Their brains might be on [an advanced] level, but their bodies aree still kids,” said Kim. “We’re cognizant of their needs as small people.

EXCITEMENT WAS a word heard often out of the mouths of school administrators and teachers as the final preparations were made in anticipation of the 2007-2008 school year. It is also a feeling that pervades the staff, much as it does the students this time of year, said Michela.

“I get so excited every single summer about starting school,” said Goldberg.

“It’s like the night before school starts when you were a kid and you couldn’t sleep,” said Michela. “Teachers get excited like that too.”

As teachers decorated their rooms and had grade-level conferences, building service employees waxed the floors and made last-minute adjustments and principals monitored the progress of their schools with growing anticipation.

“I think this whole week I’ve aged five years, not because of the stress, but because I’m just that excited,” said Kim.