New way of teaching

On Aug. 25, Superintendent Renee Foose said that while the features of the building and its outside environment were exciting, she also wanted to highlight the work that would be done in the classrooms. At Ducketts Lane, students in grades K-2 will get daily Spanish instruction (the only elementary school to do so) and instruction will occur in "departmentalization," which usually first occurs at the middle school level. Subjects will be taught in blocks by one teacher — like language arts immediately before or after social studies, and another teacher will get the students for a block of math and science.

In both cases — the Spanish lessons and departmentalization — school system officials will monitor the results and report back to the board next year on possibly expanding the programs to other schools. Balter said that while other elementary schools do departmentalize on a few grade levels, Ducketts Lane is the first and only school to implement the teaching approach consistently in grades 1 through 5.

The school also features a digital whiteboard in every classroom. On the first day, technology teacher Sarah Melvin used one for a get-to-know-you activity with the students: using a digital pen, the students dragged a colored box representing themselves to a column marked with the name of their old school.

In a kindergarten classroom, Rachel Edoho-Eket was using the same technology as Melvin with her students, as they played a letter-matching game.

On Sunday, Foose said the white boards and the subject departmentalization will "give teachers more resources, more time so they can facilitate a deeper engagement and more rigorous instruction."

She added: "These teachers are trailblazers and they're trailblazers for your children's future."

A 'big deal' for Elkridge

County Executive Ken Ulman, who visited the school Monday morning, said the opening of Ducketts Lane was a "big deal" for Elkridge.

"Elkridge is a growing, strong, thriving community that's undergone some growth pressures because Howard County is such a desirable place to live," he said in-between classroom visits. "As we go through the Route 1 revitalization, it's critical that we develop the infrastructure the community needs. The school system and school capacity are at the top of our list."

Both Ulman and County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, in her remarks Sunday, noted the investments the county has made — and continues to make — in Elkridge. The new elementary school, plus a middle school scheduled to open next year and another elementary school on the horizon, Ulman said, make up a $100 million investment.

Also coming to Elkridge is a new regional park, library and fire station. Watson added the last thing on her "bucket list" for Elkridge and the surrounding Route 1 area is to see another high school built in the northeast corridor.

After six months of preparing for the first day of school with a staff of nearly 100, Balter said the build-up was so highly anticipated that, when it finally arrived, it gave her goosebumps.

"I don't know how to capture that, but it's overwhelmingly emotional," she said Monday morning.

Hours later, when Balter stood in the front entrance way of Ducketts Lane, having just given the OK for the buses to leave the parking lot, she sighed and smiled.

"It was great," she said. "The students are on their way home, and now we just have to keep the energy going."