For 10 months, the Radwan sisters have seen their best friends every weekday -- enjoying each other's company at school, taking part in talent shows, playing basketball against their teachers.
So as classes let out for summer at Shadyside French Immersion School, the pain of parting was particularly sharp because of geography. "I don't know if I'm going to see them again," Samira Radwan said Friday on her final day of first grade.
Shadyside is not a community school for many of its students, including the Radwan sisters -- Rim, 14, Sarah, 10, and Samira, 6.
Though in recent years the Prince George's County school system has moved thousands of students back to their neighborhood schools, several magnet programs still exist, drawing from throughout the county. Each weekday morning, the Radwans ride a bus from Oxon Hill, past Fort Washington, past Temple Hills, to their school in Suitland. It takes about 30 minutes each way.
For the girls, the tradeoff for being in the French immersion program is that they don't see most of their school friends over the summer. Sure, there are birthday parties and occasional movie outings and many, many telephone calls, but that isn't enough contact, the sisters said. A trip to the Six Flags America theme park in Largo takes the skills of an event planner -- a feat for their parents, who both work in Virginia and don't always have time to chauffeur them.
Part of the summer, the sisters will be even farther from their friends when the family takes a two-week vacation to Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
"Maybe they'll meet [friends] once or twice before the school year starts," said their mother, Evelyn Radwan.
That's why Sarah, who just finished fourth grade, was determined to spend Friday with her best friend, Khala Harrison, 10. Khala's mother was planning to keep her home because she had broken her wrist a few days ago, but Khala pleaded to go to school. "I wanted to see people again instead of being stuck at home the whole time," said Khala, who lives in Suitland but is moving to Clinton.
Khala got her way. On Friday, she and Sarah, who have been in the same class since kindergarten, feasted on fried chicken and brownies with their classmates. Her mother, Peggy Harrison, said she would try to bring the two friends together this summer.
"Just dealing with the schedules, it's a conflict," Harrison said. "But we try our best to make sure they get together. It's worth making the sacrifice to keep them together."
The final day of school was difficult for other reasons: It was the last time all three Radwan sisters will attend the same school. The last time they will ride the bus together in the carefully orchestrated pattern they have learned to fall into naturally, with a seat or a row between them. The last time Rim will walk by her sisters in the hallway between classes and, she admitted, often ignore them. No longer will they be able to trade stories about the teachers, administrators and students they have come to know so well.
In the fall, Rim will be a freshman at Central High School in Capitol Heights, where, she said gleefully, she won't be around "kids" anymore. When asked if she'll miss her sisters, Rim, who applied an extra layer of Wet 'n' Wild Glassy lip gloss for the last day of school, answered with typical-teen nonchalance. "I'll see them at home," she said, shrugging her shoulders.
Her mother rolled her eyes. "She just doesn't want them to hear," Radwan said. "Of course she will."
The younger Radwan sisters will do some moving of their own when the new school year starts.
In the fall, the building in which they have spent so many days will be demolished, and all 270 students in the kindergarten to eighth-grade French immersion program will move to John Hanson Montessori School in Oxon Hill. The French immersion and Montessori programs will share a building but remain separate. County school officials have yet to decide whether the French immersion program will have its own principal.
The move has irked many Shadyside parents, who want the program to have its own building and principal. "It's going to decrease the effectiveness of the program," said Vondella Maynard, whose son is a first-grader.
But school board members have said they do not have an available building equipped for both elementary and middle school students.
For the Radwan girls, the loss of their school building has filled them with nostalgia. Rim said she had hoped to visit Shadyside as an alumna some day.
"I've been there ever since kindergarten," she said. "I'd like to go back when I'm old and say, 'This is where I fell and broke my arm. This is where I met my best friend.' "