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School's out for summer in three counties

Not much happens on the last day of school, but at Villa Cresta Elementary in Baltimore County, the principal made sure students would remember Friday.

She marched up to the roof with a microphone and danced in front of hundreds of students who joined in to celebrate the last couple hours of the school year.

Kathleen Bishop is retiring this year after 30 years in education, the last eight years as principal at Vista Cresta. She has taken to the roof before — dressed as a witch to raise money for school events — but this was done as a surprise for her students.

She wore her Baltimore Ravens shirt and brought with her third-grader Deannie Lawrence, who sang a song she had written to say goodbye to Bishop. The entire student body and the teachers joined in to dance together.

"It's really cool and we didn't expect it," said Mara Wolfe, an fifth grader.

Students throughout Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties started their summer vacations Friday. In Baltimore, vacation won't begin until Wednesday.

At Catonsville Elementary School, students were eager fro vacation.

Skylar Bacon, who finished her last day of first grade, was going to celebrate by going to the pool. "It's going to be very fun because we're going to order pizza at the pool for dinner," she said.

Deven Patel — who had a simple rule to survive first grade, "Listen to the teacher and do it" — planned to kick off his summer by playing video games and going outside. The rest of his summer will be filled with trips to the beach and museums such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, he said.

Students at Dumbarton Middle School, in Towson, used the last day of school to disregard one of the first things they learned as kindergarteners: Keep your hands to yourself.

The final bell was barely audible over the roar of the students as they filed out the doors. Boys with skateboards slung under one arm used the other to pass out high-fives and pat each other on the back. Two others got a full running start and leapt to embrace each other outside of school.

But for others, the final hugs were a bit more emotional. Eighth grader Morgan Kollman is heading off to Towson High School next year, and she said that the day was actually a sad one for her. Some of her friends will be off to Mercy High School next year, other's to the Carver Center for the Arts and Technology.

But saying that last goodbye is common for the teachers, such as seventh-grade science teacher Gregory Rowland.

"It feels good to watch a good group go through," he said. "You just recuperate during the summer and get ready for the next one."

This group of outgoing students is especially memorable for crossing guard and Rodgers Forge resident Judy Slaysman. She's in her second year at Dumbarton, but has been crossing guard at Rodgers Forge Elementary for seven years.

"One little boy said today, 'You've been my crossing guard since kindergarten,' " Slaysman said after the rush died down. "I usually do miss all of the kids."

In Howard County, nearly 47,000 students were dismissed three hours early, sent off with waves and well-wishes from teachers. The school system bade farewell to its graduating class — 3,929 students — over the course of two weeks at the end of May, and now with the close of school for all students, teachers are left to pack up their classrooms and enjoy the summer.

Some are looking forward to more than just a summer off. Schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said that as of Friday, 126 people had announced their retirement. Many teachers wait until school is over to decide about retirement, Caplan said, so that number is likely to grow. The system is anticipating 135-140 retirees.

Those retirees include several members of the central office staff, including Donna Heller, director of health services, Pamela Blackwell, director of student services, Glenn Heisey, coordinator of Leadership Development, and Caplan herself, who has been the public information officer for the county schools for 25 years.

Like many other retirees, Caplan said she was looking forward to relaxing, and to taking the next step.

"I'd like to put my energy into rediscovering old passions for art," Caplan said. "The opportunities are endless. ... I've been blessed to work with people so invested [in education]."

At Burleigh Manor Middle School in Howard, departing eighth graders hugged and cried, spoke excitedly of new beginnings and solemnly of bittersweet endings. "You just have to keep talking, so that you won't cry," said Lily Hanrahan, as she signed memory books with her group of friends, at the school's eighth grade farewell breakfast.

The class theme this year was "Living the Dream in 2016," looking ahead to their high school days, but many students prepared to part with friends.

"It's the second saddest day of our lives," said student Moniesha Lawings. The first, she anticipates, will be high school graduation.

But, while most students go to neighboring Centennial High School, more than a quarter go on to attend Marriott's Ridge High School. "Though we're splitting up, we're definitely not going to forget our memories," said Jessica Daubert.

The fifth graders at Villa Cresta were wistful that the school year was up. "It's sad. It is our last day of elementary school and I have been here for six years," Wolfe said.

Students noted that many friends will be split up as they move on to different middle schools.

"I'm happy that it's summer but I am sad," said Julia King, 10. "Because everyone is moving on," said Aaliyah Royer, finishing her friend's sentence.

Reporters Brian Conlin, Sara Toth and Jon Meolin contributed to this article.

Liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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