By Erica L. Green and Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun
9:03 PM EDT, September 1, 2011
At the beginning of the week, Principal Amanda Rice had all the first-day-of-school preparations at George Washington Elementary: a pristine building, a fresh vision and a new suit.
The only thing she didn't have was her 239 students.
"It was so sad," Rice recalled Thursday — still waiting for the first day of school. "We were moping around like kids. We couldn't wait to greet our babies."
Friday morning, five days after the scheduled start of the school year, Rice will finally get to welcome students to the Southwest Baltimore school. Like other Baltimore-area principals and teachers, her plans have been put on hold by power outages in the wake of Hurricane Irene; more than a dozen schools in the region will remain closed until next week.
Many educators have used the extra time to refine preparations for students. Still, when schools open, some orientation activities will be shortened and teachers will try to cram more into each lesson.
Across the region, school leaders have been forced to await daily updates from utility companies about how many schools could open. From 40 to 60 schools lacked power on Monday, the day the school year was scheduled to start for most systems, and that number has dwindled throughout the week.
On Friday, 13 Baltimore County schools will remain closed due to power outages, including Fifth District Elementary, which dismissed students as soon as they arrived Thursday due to an early morning outage. One city school will remain closed, though six will open an hour late because of preparations for the Baltimore Grand Prix. One school will remain closed in Anne Arundel County, and all schools will be open in Harford and Howard counties.
Meanwhile, thousands of antsy students and frustrated educators continue to cope with the closures.
"I am sitting here in the dark," said Karen Harris, principal of Fort Garrison Elementary, who has kept her sense of humor through the long week. Fort Garrison is among the Baltimore County schools that will remain closed Friday.
"It has been interesting. We haven't had any behavior problems and no referrals to the office," she said, laughing.
Harris said nothing will change because of the late start to the school year, except that kindergartners will not start on a staggered schedule, in deference to working parents who would have had to adjust child care.
She described her students as high-performing and said they will have no problem catching up quickly, although teachers may have to squeeze more into each lesson. Teachers have been in and out of Fort Garrison to work in classrooms, she said, noting that if they put the blinds all the way up, they can get enough light.
At George Washington Elementary — one of the schools that will open late because of the Grand Prix — students will be met with balloons and cheers, but teachers will jump right into lesson plans in social studies, language arts, science and math on Friday. Fourth and fifth graders will be assigned novels.
"The introduction routine and procedures will take an hour," Rice said. "It will be, 'Nice to see you, now let's get down to business.' "
Rice said the last four days have allowed teachers to be more prepared when students return — some have written lesson plans through December.
Staff members have assembled homework packets to cover skills likely to need more honing as they prepare to cover three days worth of material without falling behind. Rice will meet with parents Friday to discuss an after-school program available next week to make up for missed subject areas.
The urgency is stressful, Rice said, but if this week has taught her anything, it's how to remain calm.
"You have to be calm for your staff because they look at you like, 'What are we going to do?' " Rice said. "I just said, 'You know what to do: your best.' "
Opening day activities, even if they come five days late, won't change at Ridgely Middle School inTimonium.
Principal Susan Evans considers those first-day rituals very important. "Within seconds when a child enters a classroom they are sizing up who the teacher is and how they are going to function in the classroom," she said. If the day doesn't go well, students leave feeling it is going to be a long year.
Students come to Ridgely from 16 different elementaries; the school does a lot of team-building exercises with sixth-graders.
Evans has continued coming to the school despite the lack of power, although it is hard to get much done without a computer.
"I have been working on my agendas for meetings, straightening my office and finding things I thought were lost," she said. She has also been cleaning out the refrigerator.
In Anne Arundel County, where the first day of school was interrupted by an earthquake last week, students had a head start compared to their peers in other counties.
"There won't be anything more memorable to a school opening," said Kevin Maxwell, the county school superintendent, who joked that people have been asking whether the plague and locusts will show up next.
Maxwell said educators "have to pick up where you are and try to catch up."
Howard school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan called the delays "familiar territory," and said the county was "making adjustments in the teaching schedule as we would any time we've missed a day or two during a quarter, to adjust to lost instruction time."
The county's last closed school, Atholton High, opened Thursday. Caplan said the county plans to extend the school year by one day, with the last day of school coming on June 11.
Arundel school officials said they will ask the Maryland State Department of Education about a waiver of the 180-day requirement, if necessary.
Arundel, Baltimore City and Baltimore County have days built into their calendar to cover the missed days, barring any other weather-related closings.
"Like most," said Charles Herndon, spokesman for Baltimore County schools, "we're keeping our fingers crossed for a mild winter, and no snow."
Baltimore Sun Reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.
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