Teacher Michelle Mayfield wonders each day how to best fit her students into her classroom at Flintstone Elementary School so they have enough space to learn comfortably.
On the plus side, kindergartners tend to be very small. On the down side, she has 47 of them.
Here they were yesterday morning crammed in the 38-by-25-foot room: groups of six seated at seven tables and five more at individual desks, fidgeting in their 47 tiny seats as Mayfield tried to teach them to use, of all things, 47 pairs of miniature blunt-nosed scissors.
"Before you get your scissors," Mayfield began, "I want you to practice . . . "
But she was cut off by a chorus of chatter: "I want blue ones." "I want green ones." "I want pink."
She tried again but was interrupted: "Can I wash my hands, Miss Mayfield?"
"This is ridiculous," Mayfield said later. "They can't learn with that many. On the first day, one girl had to go home sick because she wasn't used to all the people."
Crowded classrooms are a problem in schools throughout the Washington region, but on this day, in this Oxon Hill classroom, the conditions had reached near overload.
Not that officials weren't concerned. School board members got an earful from angry Flintstone parents at a board meeting Thursday night. But the issue is a complicated one in Prince George's. Although the county is building 13 to 26 new schools in the next six years, County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) issued a moratorium on buying any more $35,000 trailers so that all construction funds can be devoted to the new buildings.
So, officials say, they are scrambling to move some of the system's 420 trailers from less crowded to more crowded schools. It's a stopgap measure that is complicated by the fact that 40,000 of the district's 133,000 students switched schools this year because of boundary changes or other reasons.
"We basically try to rank schools from the most overcrowded to the least," said Bill Greene, the system's director of pupil accounting. "We worked all summer on it because when we take away the [trailers] from a school, that means forever."
But the school system's planning office long has been criticized for not being accurate enough in its estimates of school enrollment. Mayfield said she was expecting 35 kindergartners, but 46 showed up on the first day. Another student arrived yesterday.
"Imagine having to take attendance 46 times or having to figure out which of the 46 children needs to buy a lunch," Kathy Foutz, another Flintstone teacher, told the school board Thursday night, as parents held signs that read "46." "Maybe you want to be a substitute in there for a day?"
Darrell King, whose daughter K'Linn is in the class, said: "It's ridiculous. There's no way they can teach 46 children at the same time. They must be overwhelmed."
Flintstone has a building capacity of 506 and a current enrollment of 683. Four trailers behind the building accommodate some of the overflow, but officials had to convert the music room and the computer lab to classrooms.
Complicating matters is that Flintstone is a magnet school with a Montessori program, whose classes are capped at 25 students.
Officials say relief is on the way. Two trailers are due at Flintstone on Monday, said Tony Liberatore, supervisor of support services. A second kindergarten teacher is helping Mayfield and will be able to take over a class of her own when the trailer arrives.
"The trailers probably will come from somewhere else that needs them," said school board Chairman Alvin Thornton (Suitland). "It's a painful thing, but at some point, we have to stop talking about it as a school here or a classroom there, and use it as a point to talk in terms of a systemic issue."
Until help arrives, Mayfield will do what she can. After a bit of prodding yesterday, her students raised their scissors in the air, and 47 voices said in unison: "Open, close. Open, close."
Mayfield exhaled a big sigh and paused to pick up a piece of brown construction paper. She started to speak again, but it was too late.
"I want blue." "I want green." "I want . . . "