School shows quality can mean more than scores


THINGS ARE cooking at Swansfield Elementary School -- and not only in the new cookbook, "The Many Flavors of Swansfield."

The PTA, pupils and staff are eager to spread the word about some of Swansfield's exciting programs, an effort to change negative perceptions about the 22-year-old school.

Setting up an open house is a tool of the trade for real estate agents. Last week, Swansfield PTA President Abby Futter turned the tables on Realtors by inviting them to an open house at the school.

She hopes the agents will be more enthusiastic about showing homes in the neighborhood after seeing the Swansfield pupils and staff in action.

Eleven real estate agents came for breakfast and a tour of the school Thursday.

"I was really happy with the turnout," Futter said. "Most of the Realtors left saying they were very impressed with the school."

Sue Wettstein Brazzel, an agent with O'Conor, Piper and Flynn, liked what she saw. "I thought it was incredible. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it," she said.

Brazzel said she was impressed by the warm atmosphere and the children's ability to focus. "They had such joy in their eyes," she said. "They were just happy, industrious kids."

A former teacher, Brazzel said she believes that parents place too much emphasis on a school's test scores.

"There's a misperception in the community amongst buyers that test scores represent a school -- and they don't. That's not an accurate measure of the success of a school," Brazzel said. "I found Swansfield a very exciting place to be. It's a diverse group of kids. It's Rouse's vision come to life."

Harvest of history

History can be a dry subject, especially for young pupils. But Noel Richman, Gifted and Talented resource teacher at Swansfield, knows that with a little creativity, you can make history come alive.

In a unit called "Millennimania: Closing the Millennium by Celebrating the Century," Richman challenged third- and fifth-grade students in her Gifted and Talented enrichment class to create "A Harvest of History" display for the school's stage.

The children were asked to write a report about a person, event or object from the past century. Then, using pumpkins, gourds, corn husks, leaves, seeds or straw -- all harvest items -- they made a display to represent their subject.

Kara Swirdovich, 10, carved out the side of a pumpkin, turning it into a royal coach a la Cinderella to represent Diana Spencer's wedding to Prince Charles. In the coach were a couple of sticks wrapped in straw and dressed in wedding finery -- the bridal couple.

The coachman was made from sticks covered in corn husks. Horses -- sticks wrapped in hay -- pulled the coach.

Third-grader Sarah Boone, 7, decorated a pumpkin to look like Thomas Alva Edison. A light bulb-shaped gourd came out of the top of Edison's head, reflecting his bright ideas.

Anthony Basile, 9, fashioned a diorama with candy corn, nuts and tiny pumpkins to show the lab where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

Albert Einstein's likeness was created by Danny Solow, 8, using a pumpkin for the head and cauliflower for Einstein's brain. Toothpick flags were stuck in the cauliflower to represent Einstein's contributions to the world of science, such as his theory of relativity.

The pupils' projects were displayed on the stage for one week.

"And then it started to stink," Richman said. "Some of [the pumpkins] were oozing."

Slacum wins award

Swansfield Principal Earl Slacum was one of 17 people in the Maryland-Washington-Virginia region, and the only Howard County educator, to receive the Distinguished Educational Leadership Award sponsored by the Washington Post.

"I was very excited about the award, but I guess I was more excited to be nominated," Slacum said. "It's important to us as educators to know that what we do each day for children is appreciated."

Last week, during a ceremony at the school to announce the award, Slacum was presented with a portfolio of letters that staff, pupils and parents assembled for his nomination packet.

"It was really touching," he said.

They also presented Slacum with a crown decorated with hands giving the thumbs-up sign.

"That's a symbol I use when I walk through classes every day," he explained. "It's important to have a true partnership between the school -- students, staff and parents -- and the community to create a good learning environment."

Cookbook debut

Swansfield Elementary's PTA has published a cookbook, "The Many Flavors of Swansfield," and dedicated it to Don Shifflett, a former physical education teacher there. The hardback book contains more than 500 recipes collected from parents, teachers and children in the community.

Shifflett retired at the end of the last school year after 35 years with the Howard County school system.

Shifflett embodied the spirit of Swansfield, Abby Futter said. Every morning, he made announcements over the public address system, and especially enjoyed announcing birthdays. He would add a few years to staff and pupils' ages to get a laugh.

"He taught the kids so much about respect and teamwork, Futter said. "When he retired, people were saying that he was the only person they knew that nobody could say anything bad about."

Quotes about Shifflett written by staff members and former pupils are included in the book.

"Your voice announcing the menu each morning makes even Jello sound delicious," wrote kindergarten teacher Judy Augustson.

"I know I will remember you for the rest of my life (unless I get amnesia)," wrote Stephen Paulus, now a sixth-grader.

"He's more flexible than an old man and can climb a rope faster than a monkey," wrote fourth-grader Derrik Tsaoi.

"I'm sorry to say you're 'one of a kind,' because every school in the county would be blessed to have a 'Don' on their staff. You will be missed every single day. It was a pleasure," wrote Jan Wentzel, a former first-grade instructional aide at Swansfield.

The cookbook costs $10 and is available from the Swansfield PTA: 410-964-0157.

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