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Clarksville students give school big birthday hug


Turning 30 isn't easy. For schools, it means they're past their prime.

Perhaps it was reassuring, then, when Clarksville Elementary School students stretched out their arms and hugged the 30-year-old school Tuesday.

With 395 students enrolled, it was no small feat, especially since 15 were absent. Kindergartners led a line of students, joining hands with each other and dragging along the rest.

"They kept wanting to do it like a whip," first-grade teacher Karen Feagin said afterward.

The children tried to join the beginning of the line to the end, but they were a few feet short. They were standing close to each other, so the order went out to spread out.

Then it happened: Kindergarten met fifth grade, and the hug was on.

Although the idea was to encircle the school with hands clasped, some students took the act quite literally and pressed themselves against the red-brick exterior.

It was one of several ways the students and staff will mark the school's anniversary, continuing with a field day and volunteer appreciation luncheon today and ending Saturday with an open house and the planting of a time capsule.

The time capsule will contain such 20th century school relics as a safety belt and badge, photos of students, teachers, classrooms, computers and the Clarksville flag, designed by students.

"It really jump-started them into looking at history," said teacher Cindy Stitz, who served on the student government's time capsule committee.

Third-graders produced a school history that will be placed in the time capsule and copied for anniversary celebrants. They found that the school opened in 1964 for what is now western Columbia -- an area served in 1995 by five elementary schools.

"The school was not as comfortable as it is now," they wrote. "There was no air conditioning or fans. Windows had to be opened to cool off the hot rooms." Sometimes that brought additional discomfort, the students wrote, because odors from a nearby pig farm wafted in.

Pigs weren't the only animals students had to contend with back then, said Marion Garrison, 70, one of the school's first teachers.

"We had black Angus bulls from next door that got loose in the FTC playground," she said. "Those city kids thought they were big dogs."

Those "city kids," she explained, were the children who had moved out to rural Howard County from more urban areas so that their parents could work at the Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel or at the W. R. Grace research laboratory near Simpsonville.

Patricia Anthony, assistant to Principal Kaye Cornmesser, arrived the school in 1972, about six months before the school got six color television sets that exposed children to history in the making. One of the first events they watched was Richard M. Nixon's second presidential inauguration.

The school has only two more color TVs now, but it has a computer in every classroom and many more in a computer lab, Ms. Anthony said.

Another item marking the anniversary can be seen by commuters who pass on Route 108. Yesterday, the paint-on-plank "Clarksville Elementary School" sign was replaced with a new $2,800 sign donated by the school's business partner, Clarksville's Sandy Spring National Bank branch, and the PTA. The sign is held up by two brick columns and features a message board, said Nancy Draughon, chairwoman of the school's Anniversary Committee.

Jodi O'Connor, the school's gifted and talented teacher, said the old sign was barely legible. To publicize events, a hand-painted plywood sign was hung beneath it.

Before the hug on Tuesday, fourth-graders planted an ornamental plum tree in front of the school. Students raised $45 to buy it from Ten Oaks Nursery in Clarksville, which donated landscaping for the new school sign.

But the big event came after the tree planting, when the children stretched out to encircle the school, which fourth-grader Michelle Yoon said was "interesting, but I was kind of nervous."

"It was pretty fun," said Tara Johnson, 10. "It meant a lot to us."

"We'll remember where we were when we hugged the school," said Ms. Feagin. "We were out by the holly bush, and the second-graders were by the Dumpster."

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