Lesley Knapp's homeroom seemed more like a zoo than a social studies classroom.
Kids screamed and whooped. Some swatted at flies with notebooks with a loud thwack. Others posed for photos, hugged friends, signed yearbooks and jumped off desks.
"We're way past the point when anyone's going to be quiet," said Knapp, a North Carroll Middle School teacher, after a futile attempt to hush her unruly brood during yesterday's morning announcements. "You just have to give up."
So goes the last day of school, when snack times outnumber instruction, kids can't sit still, and teachers eye the clock almost as frequently as their students. While first days of school are typically filled with the nervousness and anticipation of a new school year, the last day is flavored more by the excitement of a nearly three-month vacation, the threat of impending boredom, and the sadness of leaving friends, if only for the summer.
Students in Carroll and Baltimore counties finished the year yesterday. In Anne Arundel, the last day for students is Tuesday while Howard County and Baltimore City students wrap up Friday.
The last day of school was eagerly awaited by many North Carroll Middle pupils, including Samantha Nickoles, a mostly As and Bs student with a sunny disposition and a lukewarm opinion of school. While seventh grade brought more homework than Samantha was used to, the upcoming summer months mean more time for softball, trips to Ocean City and helping her grandmother with Bible school.
For Samantha, one of Knapp's students, the 179th - and last - day of her seventh-grade year began shortly after 6 a.m. with a breakfast of pulp-free orange juice and lumpy cream cheese. "Mooooom, can you spread this out," the 12-year-old asked with a glance at her cream cheese-topped bagel. "I don't have a knife, and it's supposed to be creamy. That's why it's called cream cheese."
There's rarely a quiet moment for a mother whose three kids are jockeying for attention while getting ready for the last day of school. "Mom. Mom. Mom," Samantha chanted, her voice rising with each attempt to get her mother to tie the strings of her brand-new shirt. "Staaacey," she finally implored.
Swamped yesterday morning by her 9-year-old son, Jimmy, her 14-year-old daughter, Jamie, and Samantha, Stacey Nickoles seemed as eager as her kids for the school year to be over.
"I hate school for two reasons: I hate packing lunches, and I hate homework," Nickoles said, finishing the last three of about 500 lunches she had packed this year. "This is my third time through seventh grade and I've got one more to go with Jimbo. I say every time that I'm getting better and better at seventh grade."
With a last-minute shoe change and some 20 spritzes of hair spray to keep her curls tucked in a ponytail, Samantha ran out the door with her mom and siblings. They piled into the family's Chevrolet Tahoe at 7:22 a.m. for the winding ride from their gray-paneled home in the quiet woods of Hampstead's hilly farmland to the bus stop.
Six minutes later, Jerry "Mr. J" Gingrichmaneuvered his bright-yellow school bus around the corner, and Samantha climbed up the steps to find her seat in the second row beneath a file card with her name on it. A few minutes later, the bus driver turned into the school parking lot.
"Have a good summer, have a good life, and I'll see you whenever," he tells the kids.
"Are you moving to Florida?" one kid asked.
"Are you going to miss me?" inquired another.
"Are you going to miss all of us?" asked a third.
"Like the plague," Mr. J cheerfully responded.
Children and staff at the 1,150-pupil school were less sarcastic. And much more emotional.
With a new middle school opening in Hampstead in the fall, teachers and students alike will be divided between the crowded North Carroll Middle and the new Shiloh Middle. Girls wept at the prospect of being separated from their friends. Teachers talked about how difficult this year's goodbyes were. Boys ran through the halls, fake crying and poking fun at their weepy female pals.
"All they're interested in doing is saying goodbye and signing yearbooks, so we're giving them the opportunity to do that," said gym teacher Angie Jones, who had let her classes sit outside on the bleachers to socialize since Wednesday. "There's some real emotional stuff going on with some of them being split from their friends."
For most of the day, from homeroom to the 12:30 dismissal bell, Samantha and her friends said goodbyes and signed yearbooks.
One of Samantha's best friends, 13-year-old KourtniRoberts, started a trend of applying a thick coat of lipstick to leave kiss marks on her friends' yearbooks.
Few teachers tried to accomplish anything during their half-hour allotments - science teacher Tessa Timneysternly directed her students to fill out surveys about the year, and math teacher Caryn Joachimsqueezed in one last day of instruction.
"Even though they look out of control, they're usually so good. But if you try to make them sit still for the last 10 minutes," language arts teacher Eileen Browning said with a shrug, "you just can't."