Diane M. Tibbs remembers being both proud and anxious--and weeping--when she accompanied her daughter Brittany to her first day of kindergarten seven years ago.
Though she won't shed tears, she'll still be anxious Monday when Brittany heads into Eugene Burroughs Middle School, in Accokeek, for her first day as a seventh-grader. Tibbs hopes that Brittany will get good teachers and continue to excel academically and that the more sophisticated eighth-graders won't teach her anything she's too young to know.
Brittany, 11, also has some concerns. "I haven't decided what to wear yet, but it will be a skirt. I love skirts and blouses. I haven't decided how I'll wear my hair. I had braids, but I took them out," she said. "And I'm looking forward to seeing all my friends again. I haven't seen hardly anyone from school this summer."
While parents are worried about teacher assignments, academic performance, health and safety, and whether the change in superintendents and budget turmoil will affect instruction, their progenies' concerns--whether they'll have early or late lunch, where their lockers will be, whether they'll be in classes with their closest friends, or with strangers--may seem less momentous, but to them they are not.
"The kids are really not relaxed. They are just as concerned as their parents, but they are concerned about things like whether their best friend will be in their class," said Leroy J. Tompkins, chief divisional administrator for instruction for Prince George's County schools. "That's what is important to them--how they look, how they are received. To us, they seem trivial, but for them, they are important."
Tompkins said parents' concerns also are justified. "Research shows that making sure your child gets a good teacher is critical," he said. "The difference in performance on standardized tests for children with ineffective teachers and effective teachers is 50 percentage points. . . . Those are things parents should be worried about."
Judy Mickens-Murray, founder and president of Parent Action Committee for Education and the mother of two grown children, one of them educated in Prince George's County schools, said parents are anxious because they often don't feel confident that schools prepare their children for the future.
"Most parents have experienced a degree of success in schools that our children have not been privileged to have yet," she said. "The standards in Prince George's County schools have been lowered for so long, we're not distinguishing between mediocrity and excellence anymore. . . . Our children have no clue as to what excellence is. So parents worry, because we know what it is, and we don't know how to attain it for our children in our schools as they exist today."
Tibbs said a major concern is whether her daughter will be in school by the time the first-period bell rings at 8:50 a.m. Brittany is one of 12,000 county students attending magnet schools whose parents were told in June that the school district no longer would bus children door to door. Instead, she will be picked up and dropped off at a "neighborhood cluster stop" near their Fort Washington home.
This will be Brittany's second year at Burroughs, where she attends a program for gifted and talented students. Tibbs said she wasn't as worried last year when Brittany was in sixth grade, because those students were separated from other middle school students. But this year, Brittany will mingle with older children, and Tibbs is worried about their influence.
Brittany, too, has some concerns besides clothes and hair. She plans to try out again for the dance team, hoping to make it this year. Last year, she passed pre-algebra, which allowed her to take algebra. She hopes to pass pre-geometry so she can take geometry as well.
She hopes to continue her straight-A streak in math, which she figures she'll need if she becomes an accountant like her mother, instead of a physician, which she also is considering.
She wants to sing in the chorus again. She wants to learn more about computers. And she really wants to hang out with her friends. "I have a separate group of friends in the neighborhood from the friends I have in school, so I can't wait to see what everybody has been doing," she said. "I just don't have anything that I'm really concerned about. I'm looking forward to a good year and having lots of fun."
Said her mother: "I know the teachers and staff at the school will be there for her. They interact with the children and are really interested in them. The principal is great."
And Brittany is a great kid, her mother said.
"She loves to learn, and she's a real go-getter," Tibbs said. "She will go to school with an asthma attack, because she just doesn't want to miss it."
With four days to go, she's almost got herself convinced that everything will be all right. She's not going to think about the countywide standardized test scores, the uncertified teachers, the budget woes. And she's not going to cry Monday.
"I walked her in the building for kindergarten, and I was thinking how little she was. She was only 4 years old, and it seemed like she was just growing up so fast," Tibbs said. "It still does."
CAPTION: Diane M. Tibbs, left, and her daughter Brittany shop for school supplies Saturday as they prepare for the first day of school at Eugene Burroughs Middle School.