The petite fifth-grader had wandered through Runnymede Elementary School Annex's vacant cafeteria twice when the principal stopped her.
"I think you better stay with me," said Barbara Walker gently, assuring the girl she'd only need a couple of days to find her bearings in the new school. "Every time I see you, you're lost."
Surprisingly, there were few other wanderers yesterday as Runnymede's students and teachers moved into their temporary digs, formerly Taneytown Elementary. The nearly 600 former Uniontown Elementary and Taneytown Elementary students will move again when their new school is completed around Christmas.
"I am very, very pleased," Ms. Walker said of the first day. "Things have gone really well, even with so many changes. The children have behaved beautifully."
Runnymede guidance counselor Dee Muskin, a teacher for 14 years, said, "This is one of the smoothest openings I've seen in a long time. After such a short summer, the kids seem ready to come back. That's surprising."
Countywide, administrators reported similar, uneventful days. The biggest disruption was a false fire alarm at Friendship Valley in Westminster when a smoke detector malfunctioned.
"This was an above-average year with the first day," said Principal Robert Bastress at Liberty High. "We had 1,068 students show up, and all but one had their schedules. Things went very smoothly."
Transportation director James Doolan said he had to deal with the usual school bus snarls today. A few buses were overcrowded, some students wanted to change stops or routes and several buses weren't on time.
"On the first day of school, one of the reasons the buses are late is that the parents are there," Mr. Doolan said. "That's fine, but they want that extra hug, kiss and picture when the child gets on the bus. Some of those bus times will improve drastically by Friday."
Overcrowding should be corrected and special requests filled within the next few weeks, he said.
"With nearly 250 buses and almost 21,000 kids, the problems we've had are kind of minor," Mr. Doolan said. "We're pretty excited about the opening, and it's been a positive opening for everybody."
Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary schools, said he was impressed by two Francis Scott Key High teachers who dove into their instruction early yesterday.
Physics teacher Don Koper led students through an experiment and vocational agriculture teacher Joe Linthicum asked students give brief oral reports about themselves, their interests and their families.
"There are only so many forms you can fill out in a day and only so long that you can hear about grading procedures," Mr. McDowell said. "It was refreshing to see that."
Elementary schools were a different story, said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary schools.
"We always have the special challenges of little people, one-sixth of [whom are in] their first experience in public school," she said. "They are used to being the center of their universe, and now they are one of 25. Considering the number of special circumstances, today went pretty smoothly."
But Ms. Mangle, a 24-year veteran in the school system, never dreamed that one of those special challenges would involve her youngest child, who didn't get off the kindergarten bus because his father wasn't standing at the stop. (He was walking up the street.)
"You'd think my children would get with the program," she said, laughing. "He [her son] got a scenic tour of Carroll County and then wanted the bus driver to drop him off at the Gamber Fire Hall, which is a great way from our house, insisting that he could walk from there."
Ms. Mangle, who also has children in middle and high school this year, said she spent the afternoon convincing her son that he is responsible for recognizing his stop and getting off the bus.
"There's always a story of the day," she said.