Crowding at Hillcrest Elementary sends pre-K program to nearby Woodbridge

Each day at 12:30 p.m., a small school bus pulls into the drop-off circle at Woodbridge Elementary School and about 15 children get off.

These 4- and 5-year-old pre-K students are attending Woodbridge for their first and, most likely, only year. They arrive at the school on Pleasant Valley Drive from Hillcrest Elementary, the Frederick Road school they are zoned to attend.

But as student enrollment at Hillcrest has continued to climb in recent years, the county moved the school's pre-K program this year to create space for primary grades.

As of Oct. 21, Hillcrest had 821 students enrolled, 155 over the state-designated capacity of 666 students.

Catonsville Elementary, a short distance away from Hillcrest, is 59 students over its state-designated capacity of 405, making it an unlikely candidate to accommodate additional pre-K classes.

Woodbridge's enrollment this year is 461 students, 29 students over the state-designated capacity of 432.

"Students are picked up [by the bus] in the Hillcrest community, brought directly to Woodbridge and then brought back to their homes," said Hillcrest Principal Terry McVey. "I think parents realized it was a necessary move."

Though the 15-minute bus ride had school staff and parents concerned at first, Woodbridge Principal Jason Barnett said the system has been working well.

"This is one of the relief strategies [for overcrowding] proposed by Baltimore County," Barnett said. "We worked collaboratively. That is something, as we talked about this process, that we thought may have been a little bit of a concern. In fact it's been quite the opposite. They enjoy riding the bus. The parents have been really awesome about it."

Cameron Hill's 4-year-old son, Camden, is in the pre-K program at Woodbridge, and his 6-year-old son, Caron, is in first grade at Hillcrest.

Hill said the pre-K shift to a different campus has been great, despite occasional challenges.

"My oldest son was attending Grace Bible Classes [at Grace Baptist Bible School]," Hill said. "Once they closed down, we were looking for schools in our area.

"We found out that both Woodbridge and Hillcrest were good schools. I think both schools are excellent schools."

Hill said his youngest son has had a positive experience at Woodbridge so far.

"My son never comes home disappointed about school," Hill said. "He always explains how his day went and what he learned that was new. While he is just running around the house playing, he's reciting things that he's learned."

The schedule to pick up Camden from Woodbridge and make it home in time to greet Caron from the Hillcrest bus, however, is a tight one, he said.

"My youngest son, he gets out of pre-K at 3 p.m., and my other son he gets out at 3:30," Hill said. "Sometimes I do wish I didn't have to go back and forth."

Lisa Barrick said she has the same problem. Her four children attend four different schools.

Scott, her 15-year-old son, is in 10th grade at Catonsville High School. Her 12-year-old son, Brandon is in seventh grade at Catonsville Middle. Zackary, 10, is in fifth grade at Hillcrest Elementary and daughter Payton, 4, is in pre-K at Woodbridge.

A former teacher's assistant at Hillcrest, Barrick said she didn't even know the pre-K program had been moved until she signed Payton up.

"I didn't care for it very much because obviously it added another school to my list," she said.

Because she has a fifth-grader at Hillcrest, she was looking forward to Payton having a sibling in the same building as she transitions to a structured school atmosphere.

"He could have picked her up from class or walked her down to class," Barrick said. "Adding the school was a definite negative, but as far as the school itself, the staff and the teachers, it's been great. The teacher has been excellent."

Lindsay Bosley, the pre-K teacher at Woodbridge, said the Hillcrest students have been a welcome addition to the program, doubling its size. Previously, there were 21 students in one morning class. Now, there are 21 students in the morning class and 21 students in the afternoon class.

"They bring so much knowledge to class," Bosley said of the Hillcrest students. "Even the long bus ride doesn't phase them.

"They actually love riding the school bus," Bosley said. "They say hello to the bus driver and goodbye."

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