Summer's Over; It's Back to Books

Clockwise from front right, Tracey Tran, Ashley Nguyen, John-Calvin Donnon, Jack Anders, Quinn Rosenfeld, Ashley Williams and Malu Tshitenge listen intently to a lesson in Uyen Vu's kindergarten class at Great Seneca Creek Elementary in Germantown, one of five new Montgomery County schools.
Clockwise from front right, Tracey Tran, Ashley Nguyen, John-Calvin Donnon, Jack Anders, Quinn Rosenfeld, Ashley Williams and Malu Tshitenge listen intently to a lesson in Uyen Vu's kindergarten class at Great Seneca Creek Elementary in Germantown, one of five new Montgomery County schools. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then by 9 a.m. yesterday, Morris Espinoza was one of the most prolific authors in all of Montgomery County. Espinoza, armed with a digital camera, was on hand to capture every moment of stepdaughter Darlana's first day of third grade at Great Seneca Creek Elementary in Germantown.

Darlana walking through the doors of the new elementary campus -- snap.

Darlana on the stairs -- snap. Darlana in the hallway on her way to Room 225 -- snap.

Darlana rolling her eyes and mouthing "stopppppppp'' -- snap. Snap. Snap.

"We have to torment you,'' said Hilda Montes, smiling as Espinoza took yet another picture of their 8-year-old daughter, this time standing in front of her new blue locker.

Thousands of students started school yesterday in the District and several Maryland counties, including Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Charles, Frederick and Howard. Students in Fairfax and other Virginia school systems begin classes next week. Prince George's County students are in their second week of classes.

There were no major back-to-school glitches reported yesterday, although about 600 sixth-grade students at Severn River and Magothy River middle schools in Arnold arrived at their campuses to discover there was no power. For them, today will be a do-over.

It may have not been the auspicious start that Magothy's new principal, Christopher Mirenzi, had envisioned. His father, Joseph, had been the campus's first principal when the school opened in 1974. "It was kind of an anticlimactic experience for the kids and for us," Mirenzi said.

In Montgomery County, Maryland's biggest system, where more than 139,000 students started classes, opening day brought five new schools, including the $52 million Clarksburg High. Four elementary campuses also opened yesterday -- Little Bennett and Great Seneca Creek in the upcounty area, and Roscoe Nix and Sargent Shriver, both in Silver Spring. It was the largest number of new schools in the county since 1990, when educators opened seven campuses to ease crowding.

At Great Seneca Creek, the county's first public "green" school, a geothermal system powered by a network of 128 wells buried 515 feet below the school's athletic fields will provide heat and air conditioning throughout the year. The system is expected to save the school system more than $50,000 a year in utility costs.

The school's restrooms are also environmentally friendly. The multicolored partitions in the boys' and girls' rooms are made from recycled materials, the urinals are waterless and even the kindergarten rooms boast special dual-flush toilets. "If brown, push here; if yellow, push here," the sign above one toilet read.

In Howard County, educators celebrated the opening of one new elementary campus, Dayton Oaks. The school, built to relieve crowding in the western part of the county, is the first designed to accommodate full-day kindergarten classes, which will be required at all public school campuses in Maryland by the next school year. Other Howard County campuses offer full-day kindergarten but often didn't have enough space to house the programs, forcing some students to be taught in portables.


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