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Schools' opening day goes smoothly

With the rustling of book bags and the rumble of school buses, tens of thousands of students from across the Baltimore area said goodbye to a summer of sleeping late and hello to 10 months of schooling yesterday.

After lazy days playing catch and watching videos, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard county schoolchildren woke early to return to the regulated schedule of class and homework.

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"It's like New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and every other holiday all rolled into one," Howard Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said about the first day of school.

This month, more than 860,000 public school students will be returning to Maryland's classrooms. Anne Arundel County schools open today, and Baltimore City's will open a week from today, Sept. 2.

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At the hundreds of schools that reopened yesterday, few problems were reported. For the most part, it was a day for schoolchildren to find their lockers, show off their new notebooks and review school rules.

Brenda Lee, a sixth-grade teacher at Hereford Middle School, plunged right ahead into the day's lesson.

"What is science?" she asked her young charges, kicking off their first writing assignment.

At Hereford Middle in northern Baltimore County, only sixth-graders came to school to ease their transition into the building. Many other schools had similarly staggered openings.

For the first time, Carroll County schools segmented the start for kindergartners, who are trickling in at different times over the first week so teachers can evaluate each child's abilities and tailor instruction to their particular needs.

The kindergartners will begin reporting every day on Tuesday.

"Things went very well," Carroll Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said of the first day. "Buses were running on time. Schools were ready for them. Teachers were ready and anxious. And kids seemed happy.

"Things seemed a little hectic, but that's what you'd expect on a first day."

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New Town High in Owings Mills, Baltimore County's first new high school in 25 years, opened with more than 280 ninth-graders smiling as they walked into the spacious main hallway and then throughout the pastel-colored building.

"It's so big," Brittani Wynn, 14, of Randallstown, said while standing in the blue-tiled corridor, waiting in a line of students seeking identification badges.

She had spent the summer listening to Beyonce, lounging on a Jamaican beach and repeatedly watching Beauty and the Beast, her favorite movie.

Now, she's looking forward to inaugurating a new school, starting a tradition at a place that doesn't have a mascot yet.

"It's going to be a new start for everyone, even myself. We're going to make history, because we're going to be the first class," said Brittani, a member of the Class of 2007.

Holding one of the school's maroon baseball hats, Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said the $35.3 million building was $1.6 million under budget. "It's a wonderful facility," he said.

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In Baltimore County, just one public school didn't open. As parents were told last week, Maiden Choice School in Arbutus, which serves special education students, will open today because renovations weren't quite completed on time.

But elsewhere, problems were minor: repairs to a classroom unfinished, a parent forgetting yesterday was the start of school and some nervous students sleeping fitfully the night before the first day.

"I found myself excited last night, and I didn't sleep very well, probably like our children," said Harry Belsinger, principal at Grange Elementary in Dundalk, who's beginning his 41st year.

Between making sure pupils knew their bus assignments, Belsinger said he was looking forward to smaller classes and extra time for instructing gifted pupils this school year.

The Dundalk school's PTA had raised $6,400 to buy and install fans in each of the classrooms, where teachers reviewed the school system's rules for behavior and then launched into instruction.

In Room 2, pupils such as Hannah Shirk were learning to apply what they read, following instructions on making faces from paper plates, yarn and crayons.

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Hannah, a 7-year-old from Dundalk, took a break to reminisce about two weeks in Western Maryland of "swimming, rafting, fishing and hunting" with her family.

Although Hannah said she was excited about returning to school as a second-grader, she said she was already looking forward to what comes afterward.

"Third grade," she said.

Staff writers Tricia Bishop and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.


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