The cards and pictures from English teacher Paul Courtney's old students at Mount View Middle School sat on an otherwise empty desk in the mostly empty classroom at Marriotts Ridge High School.
"Mr. Courtney, even within this barren wasteland called Howard County . . . I'm glad to have had a wonderful teacher such as yourself," read one card.
Then, in smaller print, the student had written: "(Yawn) Frankenstein's boring though."
Courtney rifled through the mementos on a recent afternoon as he began the long process of unpacking his supplies and preparing his room for new students. He wasn't sure why he had taken them out -- he wasn't going to hang them up. But they reminded him of the most rewarding moments of his 10 years of teaching at Mount View.
Starting Monday, Courtney will see many of his former students in a new light: as high schoolers. The entire eighth-grade class at Mount View will attend Marriotts Ridge. And Courtney is ready for them with a more mature curriculum.
"I think I just have to move it up a little bit," he said.
That means no more Frankenstein. Courtney has spent the summer reading teenage staples such as "Night," by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel; "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee; and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou. He was still reading Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "Lord of the Flies," by William Golding, was next.
Courtney said he wants to make sure the students know that they're in high school. Eighth-graders would never read a book such as "Speak," by Laurie Halse Anderson, for example, which tells the story of a rape victim. He wouldn't press middle schoolers to home in on details the way he plans to do with the high-schoolers.
Courtney said he wants to challenge his students -- and himself.
He applied for the job at Marriotts Ridge soon after he heard school officials would be opening the school.
He had been itching to move to a high school for a while but was waiting until his three children were a little older. Now his youngest is in kindergarten, and Courtney is ready to move on.
"You can just see there's a lot of experts here," he said of Marriotts Ridge. "I can't see a failure."
In the state-of-the-art building, he has all the tools to help his students succeed: a new laptop computer and a digital projector, and, his preference, an old-fashioned pack of chalk and a blackboard.