Catherine DiMaggio is finishing her kindergarten classes this week at Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City. She loves the school — the teachers, the building and especially the mascot, Spirit the Eagle.
But when school resumes in August, Catherine will not be going back to Veterans.
As a result of the elementary redistricting plan approved by the Board of Education last year, about 1,860 Howard County students are going to new schools in the fall in a plan that affects 17 schools.
DiMaggio will attend Hollifield Station Elementary, a little more than four miles from her current school.
Like many families, the DiMaggios are dealing with mixed emotions as they spend the summer preparing for a big change.
"We really liked Veterans," said Catherine's father, Dennis DiMaggio. "Our daughters had the same kindergarten teachers, the same first-grade teachers, and we were looking forward to Catherine having the same teachers. There's a level of anxiety in going to a new school. We've heard good things about Hollifield, but we haven't had that first-hand experience yet."
Redistricting doesn't end with a board vote that makes the changes official. Guidance counselors meet with redistricted students, transition meetings are held for parents and students — including open houses to meet with the new school's teachers and administration — and students take field trips to see their new building.
Catherine went to Hollified Station last week and liked it.
"It's big, and there's an outdoor classroom under a big tree and there's a lot of blacktop for jump-roping," said Catherine, 6. "I'm a little bit sad, and a little bit happy. I'll miss my old school, but I like my new school."
While families are grateful for the transition measures put in place, it still is difficult, said Ted Tuck, of Ellicott City, whose daughter, Rylee, is leaving Veterans to go to St. John's Lane Elementary School.
"When they're in their formative years, it's difficult," he said. "In Howard County, your kids are getting a better-than-average education. But for me, the social education aspect is very important. If you don't understand how to develop friendships, and the need for meeting and helping people, if you don't have that sense of community, you're missing something in a school. Those social skills help you out in later years, and if you don't develop those skills in school you're missing out on a lot."
Those skills, Tuck said, are developed through consistency. Both he and his wife said they would prefer their children to stay with the same group of peers from kindergarten through high school graduation.
"With consistency, you know who you're dealing with and you know how to build trust between people," he said. "Knowing a core group of people helps you understand that. I don't think Rylee's going to get that."
Rylee, 10, is a rising fifth-grader. Her parents said she's "a quieter kid," unlike her older brother, Logan, 14, a rising freshman at Mt. Hebron High School. When he was redistricted as a rising third-grader from St. John's to Veterans in 2006 he made more friends quickly, his parents said.
"I worry," said Rylee's mother, Debbie Tuck. "We hope she can just get in there and meet new kids."
Unlike Catherine, who is moving to Hollifield Station with many of her friends, Rylee has no friends going with her to St. John's.
"All of my friends are at Veterans," Rylee said. "I'll make new friends, but I'm nervous because I don't know anybody."
The nervousness doesn't come so much from the school, Debbie Tuck said. She's "fine" with Rylee going to St. John's.
"That's where our family started anyway," she said. "But it would be nice if when they started kindergarten, they stayed with those kids. You figure, this is a community and you should stay with the school community. But that's not how it is. We weren't aware that all this stuff would happen."
The Tucks bought their Ellicott City town house 16 years ago. Their development does not have a neighborhood school, and Ted Tuck feels that somehow the neighborhood got lost in the shuffle in the county's "chess game."