SCHOOL'S 20 YEARS CELEBRATED Rural atmosphere recalled at party for Centennial Lane

Twenty years ago, Centennial Lane Elementary School was surrounded by woods, meadows and a cornfield. There was no such thing as a computer center, and classes there often had fewer than 25 students.

Now, the Ellicott City school is surrounded by houses and has an addition to absorb an ever-increasing number of children.


To celebrate the 700-student school's 20th anniversary, students, parents and staff held a two-day party Friday and Saturday, with cake, games, and a karaoke, Japanese-style sing-along.

They paid homage to the past with recollections from former students and staff and prepared for the future with a time capsule.


"We wanted to celebrate all of the school's accomplishments through the years," said Bernadette Bechta, a parent volunteer who helped organize the event.

The kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school opened in 1973 with 280 students. Frank Van Order, the first principal, now retired and living in Ellicott City, recalled the challenges of opening a new school.

"One of the biggest jobs was to set up the classrooms," said Mr. Van Order. "We all had to pull together."

The first year, school opened two weeks late because carpeting was not installed on time. "That put everything behind schedule," Mr. Van Order said.

The school had no outdoor playground at first; the children made do with a gymnasium and a large paved area.

"We managed," Mr. Van Order said.

Former students still have vivid memories of their early schooling -- and pranks -- at Centennial Lane.

Christine Poward, 25, who was a kindergartner the year the school opened, recalled painting a fellow student's hair yellow.


"I did it just to see what would happen," said Ms. Poward, now a community education coordinator for the state's Department of Juvenile Services.

Ms. Poward, who still lives in the community and returns to the school to vote, said she's always surprised at how small everything appears.

"Things look so big when you're in kindergarten -- the water fountain, the bathroom. Now it looks like Munchkin Land," she said, laughing.

Matthew Heber, 25, another member of the first kindergarten class, recalled the rural environment that once surrounded the school.

"There was a cornfield and woods," said Mr. Heber, now a student at Howard Community College. "Centennial Lane sat like an outpost by itself."

But as the community grew and changed, so did Centennial Lane.


Ms. Poward recalled her disbelief as a fifth-grader when she learned that the nearby woods would one day become a housing subdivision.

"When you're 9 or 10 years old, you can't comprehend something like that happening," Ms. Poward said. "Now my parents own a house in Burleigh Manor" in the same neighborhood.

The school's subsequent expansion was inevitable, said current Principal Friedel Warner, who has worked at the school for 10 years.

"It was pretty small," he recalled. "Now, we're using every nook and cranny."

In 1987, an addition was constructed to house the growing number of students. The school has added a computer laboratory and adopted site-based management, in which parents and teachers work together to decide how best to educate students.

Despite those changes, Centennial Lane's alumni still feel an attachment to the school that helped mold them as children.


"I was very privileged," said Ms. Poward.