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Parents head back to school

The Baltimore Sun

Before the first day of school, county students were invited to attend an open house at their respective schools.

During this night, the students were introduced to their teachers, shown their classrooms, and met classmates and schoolmates.

Now it's the parents' turn.

As their children adjust to new buildings, new teachers, new friends, class changes and schedules, parents are invited to attend an orientation meeting in their child's school.

"The parent nights are an essential start of the home and school partnership," said Peggy Kirk, principal at Emmorton Elementary in Bel Air.

Called Back to School Nights, the events are held in the evening, and bring parents in droves to the schools. Although the itineraries differ from school to school, the events typically include a PTA meeting and membership drive, a speech by the principal that covers new developments, school policies and performance, school initiatives, opportunities for parent involvement and teacher introductions.

"Back to School Night gives parents a chance to learn about the curriculum, and where the school is headed," said Earl Gaskins, who is in his second year as principal of Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air, which has about 495 children enrolled this year.

Gaskins gave his State of the School Address during Ring Factory's Back to School Night. He discussed school performance, intervention data, school initiatives, two new reading programs and the importance of parent involvement in the school. He also introduced the school's new theme, "Blast Off to Student Achievement...Reaching New Heights."

After the address, parents went to their child's classroom where they met and talked with the teachers, he said.

As the principal of Edgewood Elementary, a Title I school, Lisa Sundquist is charged with the additional task of helping parents understand what that means to their children, she said.

Each year on back-to-school night, Sundquist explains what a Title I school is and what makes it unique. She explains the free and reduced lunch program and its importance to the school keeping its Title I designation.

"There are a lot of people who don't understand exactly what it means to be a Title I school," said Sundquist, who is starting her fifth year as principal of the school. "There are a lot of parents who hear about the free and reduced lunch program, but they don't fill out the paperwork. I try to help them understand why it's important that they do."

She also shares opportunities for parent involvement, she said. One program allows parents to do math and read with their child at school. Another program gives parents a chance to help the classroom teachers, she said.

Although Back to School Night is for parents, Sundquist doesn't turn anyone away, she said.

"If a parent can't find a baby sitter for their children, they bring their kids, and we allow that," she said.

At the Emmorton Back to School Night, Kirk introduced the school's new behavioral plan.

The premise of the program is simple. At the start of each day, each class has a 10- to 15-minute meeting. During the meeting, the school's 685 students greet one another and share with one another. The meeting sets the tone for the day, she said.

She also discussed ways that parents can be involved at the school.

"Parents want concrete information about what they can do to support their child's learning experiences," Kirk said.

Officials at St. Margaret's School in Bel Air divided parent orientation into three nights. At this year's events, the school's theme, Be Positive, and a school-wide writing initiative will be introduced.

Called Writing to Enhance Learning, the writing project is part of the school's middle states re-accreditation and will impact the school for the next seven years, said Jane Dean, in her ninth year as St. Margaret's principal.

Although the school's 850 students, in grades pre-K to eighth, have always done writing assignments, this project will enhance writing in all core subjects, Dean said.

"In language arts, the children learn to write using the right words and punctuation," she said. "... We want the children to see that writing is not just about language arts, it's everywhere."

Parents will also learn about the school's efforts to become a green school, Dean said. Their efforts will be tied to the science curriculum, she said. The main goal is to teach students about being in a watershed, she said.

"We want to help our students understand that everyone is involved in helping to preserve the bay," Dean said. "... We want the kids to see that everyone has to help preserve the watershed."

back-to-school activities

Sept. 8 - Fallston Middle, grade 8, 6:30p.m.; North Bend Elementary, Southampton, grade 7c -- 7d, Patterson Mill Middle School, grade 6, 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 - C. Milton Wright, 6 p.m.; Prospect Mill, Pre-K and K; Youth's Benefit, grades Pre-K, K, and 3, 6:30 p.m.; North Harford Middle School, grade 6, 6:45 p.m.; Patterson Mill Middle, grade 7, 7 p.m.

Sept. 10 - North Harford High, 5:30 p.m.; Havre de Grace, Prospect Mill, grade 1, Youth's Benefit, grade 1 and 4, 6:30 p.m.; Hickory, Patterson Mill Middle, grade 8, 7 p.m.

Sept. 11 - Edgewood Middle, 6 p.m.; Prospect Mill, grade 2, Youth's Benefit, grades 2 and 5, and Havre de Grace Middle, 6:30 p.m., Forest Hill, Patterson Mill High, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 - Prospect Mill, grade 3, and Fallston Middle, grade 7, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 - John Archer, Prospect Mill, grade 4, Fallston Middle, grade 6, 6:30 p.m.; Bel Air, grade 8, and North Harford Middle Schools, grades 7 and 8, 6:45 p.m.; William S. James, 7 p.m.

Sept. 17 - Church Creek, 6 p.m.; Bel Air Middle, grade 7, 6:45 p.m.

Sept. 18 - Bel Air Middle, grade 6, 6:45 p.m.

Sept. 25 - Magnolia, 7 p.m.

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