John White, a 31-year-old safety director for an ironwork company, took yesterday morning off from work to go back to school - elementary school.
"It's my daughter's first day. I thought it was important that I be here," said White, who was peering through the doorway of his 6-year-old's first-grade class at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge.
About 400 other parents at the school had the same idea, taking time from work to join their children in the First Day of School America campaign, which had its debut in Howard County yesterday at Deep Run as 14 districts in the state started the first phase of the back-to-school wave, which ends when city schools return Sept. 2.
The program asks parents to come into class on day one in the hopes that they'll stay involved in their kids' education every day after that, something administrators always encourage.
"Thirty years of research show the most significant factor in a child's success is parent involvement," said Fran Donaldson, Deep Run's principal and president of the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals. "[It's key] to building a good foundation for a successful school."
In Howard, which sent more than 47,000 kids and 4,000 teachers back to its 70 schools yesterday, community outreach is a primary concern.
"We want every single parent involved, and we're committed to meeting them halfway - in their neighborhoods, in their homes," said Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. "We're not content to passively sit back. We're going out and recruiting them."
The county reorganized the structure of the Department of Education over the summer and developed a new Department of Student, Family and Community Services, charged in large part with drawing parents into the process by tightening community connections.
"It's a wrap-around approach," Robert Glascock, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said in an earlier interview about the department. "We're asking faith-based organizations, nonprofits and civic organizations to really look at what their communities can be doing to accelerate student achievement."
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who stopped by Deep Run on a three-school tour yesterday morning, credited that kind of effort with making Howard County the best-performing school system in the state.