Yvette Staggs and Wanda Gilbert were good friends last year at Seat Pleasant Elementary School.
This year, Wanda has gone to Riverdale Hills Elementary, and Yvette says mournfully, "It was fun last year, now it's boring. My old teacher's gone. I wanted to go with (Wanda) to Riverdale Hills."
Seat Pleasant and Riverdale Hills are among the 75 Prince George's County elementary school affected by a new school busing plan, which eliminates bus rides for 1,800 students and shortens the rides for another 1,800.
Seat Pleasant Elementary lost about 120 pupils to Riverdale Hills, located seven miles to the north. The shift has cut Seat Pleasant's enrollment almost in half and has increased Riverdale Hills' pupil population by more than a third.
For Riverdale Hills, it means a gain in teachers, programs and a new spirit in the school, while Seat Pleasant loses some of all three.
The children who have moved are adjusting to the new school, and youngsters in both are trying to adjust to the absence of familiar faces among teachers and fellow students.
A poster on the office wall of Riverdale Hills Principal Peter A. Bielski expresses a philosphy that could be helpful in making the adjustments: "We often grow more by bending in the wind than by standing in rigid defiance."
This year Bielski's school has grown by the 120 children who left Seat Pleasant. All the youngsters live about a half mile away in the Parkview Gardens apartments. Riverdale Hills also has gotten five additional full-time teachers and a gym teacher, music instructor and guidance counselor who work less than full-time at the school.
Budget cuts and declining enrollment have forced schools to share some instructors, and their time is measured in fractions: The additional gym instructor, for example, is considered two-tenths of a teacher.
Bielski said he is happy to have the new students, adding, "The teachers are happy to get the kids because they get more support services. The (new kids) came in excited about it and that buoyed us."
The shift increased the Riverdale Hills enrollment from 267 to 364. The school's black population increased slightly as a result of the move, from 33 percent to 36 percent.
Bielski's enthusiasm was reflected in the eyes of Shawnique Pinder, an intense fifth grader. She was elated because one of her favorite teachers, Johnathan Clark, cam with her from Seat Pleasant.
"A lot of my friends came here from Seat Pleasant too," she said. "Seat Pleasant was bigger, but at this school they have a special time for recess. They (also) have a different menu. The hot dogs are softer, longer too.
"I like walking to school. Now we don't have to worry about standing out in the cold and waiting for the bus or missing the bus," Pinder added.
Tracy Fowler, a blond fifth grader, was certain that she liked her new school, but remembered that she left one of her best friends, Jordana Bendermeyer, at Seat Pleasant. So did Tanya Durant, who said she had no friends when she first came to Riverdale Hills two weeks ago.
And Wanda Gilbert wondered about Yvette Staggs and another friend, Kim Fletcher, who were due to go into sixth grade.
Fletcher went to a classroom shared by fifth- and sixth-graders because of the staffing cuts resulting from the lower enrollment.
Seat Pleasant is a fully air-conditioned, two-story structure built in 1971, which was room for 510 students. It has an estimated 218 students this year, compared to 414 last September.
"It's different," said petite, round-faced Fletcher. "She'll (the teacher) start teaching the fifth-graders something and then you have to wait for her to get back to you," she said of her class.
The girls music instructor, Patricia Bernardo, is now only "half a teacher," sharing her time with another school and leaving the children she has known since kindergarten.
"I don't want to be totally negative," said Bernardo. "It's just that I've been teaching here my whole career -- of course my heart is here."
Seat Pleasant's principal, Winnifred Farmer, tallied the school's losses -- 7 1/2 teachers including half a music teacher, half a nurse and half a gym teacher. The food is no longer cooked in the building but is brought in from a nearby junior high.
Farmer, after 35 years in the county school system, 17 as a principal, was philosophical about the changes.
"The impact is adjusting to fewer students and fewer staff. It's a little more difficult scheduling part-timers," she said. "But you do it and you go on," she added with a tough smile that has earned her the respect of many principals and teachers.
She intends to make the best of life in the half-empty school, but shares a fear with a number of families in the community that the school eventually may be closed if the enrollment shrinks further.
The fear was first voiced last spring by school board member Bonnie Johns, who opposed the busing plan.She said that lowered pupil populations in many predominantly black schools, resulting from the new busing patterns, could lead to the closing of several schools.
In Farmer's office is a great quartz stone with 1971 painted on it.
"They gave me that rock when the school first opened," she said. "I'll take it with me whenever I leave."