It is 7:10 Tuesday morning, and the bus is due in five minutes. Sheri Beauregard, 15, is putting a final curl in her hair.
"She's not going to make it," her sister Christy warns, "and we told her we're not going to drive her to school."
Sure enough, when Sheri finally headed out to the bus stop near her family's house at Andrews Air Force Base, the bus was gone. It is an inauspicious start to her first day at a new school.
Thousands of children in the highly transient Washington area know how Sheri felt. The first day of school often means not just a new grade, but a new school, a new set of teachers, and more than a few butterflies in the stomach.
For Sheri Beauregard, a junior, Central High in Seat Pleasant is the fifth school in her young academic career. Her father, a chief master sergeant in the Air Force, moved the family to Andrews in June after being stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Prince George's County school officials estimate that more than 10 percent of their students are new to the county school system this year. Montgomery County officials estimate that about 7 percent of their students are new. Virginia school officials have no figures available.
Because of the large number of new students, some counties have special programs for those just entering their schools. Prince George's, for example, has an orientation day, requires meetings with guidance counselors, and assigns newcomers a "buddy" who has been at the school for at least a year.
"A child entering the school would not be left just to wander the halls," said Brian Porter, a Prince George's school spokesman.
As she counted down the days until school, playing in the air base's recreation hall, Sheri Beauregard had other worries about Central High -- about being white in a school that is 65 percent black, and about tales of racial problems she had heard from her friends.
"I hear a lot of stories, and I don't know what's true or not," she said.
So it was with some concern that Sheri readied herself for Central High before stepping out her front door to meet the school bus yesterday morning.
Aware of her family's warning about being late, Sheri had gotten extra rest each night the previous week. "I'm as sound sleeper, and it's hard for me to get up," she explained.
She even woke up at 3 a.m. yesterday -- but then went back to sleep.
Cutting across the neighbor's lawn, she found the bus stop deserted. "I hope it didn't stop at a different corner," Sheri said. "I got up a little later than I thought."
Finally, she saw the bus -- driving off in the distance. She had to get a ride by car.
When she arrived at the school, Sheri spotted friends from Andrews at the front door. The bell rang -- off to home room. Then beginning French, followed by basic guitar.
"So if this is the head and this is the body," said the teacher, holding the middle of the guitar, "what do you think this is called?"
"The neck, came the quick response.
The teacher smiled. Education was taking place.
Ten a.m. -- time to fill a hole in the schedule, preferably with a driver's education course. Sheri picked her way over to the career room, where three guidance counselors slowly were working their way through a melange of scheduling woes. A dozen students waited patiently in the steamy room. It was so hot that all the county's school would later be dismissed two hours early.
Finally, it was Sheri's turn. She was told to see another counselor in the same room.
An hour later, 18 people were waiting in the same room. The bell rang, and an adviser leaning over a bulky computer terminal told them all to go to their next class. Sheri stayed around, and soon found her way into the driver education class.
She raced off, late, to a temporary classroom where she was scheduled for Asian Studies. The room was empty.
"I sure didn't have lunch this period." she said puzzled. "Maybe they went somewhere else."
Finally, she sought the wisdom of the principal's office. A woman behind the desk listened to the problem and contemplated the rules and regulations of the Prince George's school system. Finally, she looked up: a solution.
"Have two lunches today," she advised, one during the time the Asian Studies class had been scheduled.
With time on her hands, Sheri walked out to a small courtyard and reflected on her first day at Central High. If one can damn with faint praise, Sheri -- perhaps reluctant to sound excessively enthusiastic about school -- praised with faint damnation.
"I thought it would be a lot worse than it is," she said. "I thought it would be rougher.
"I feel a lot better," she added. "It seems like everybody's getting along with everybody. They're here to go to school."