Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Off to a fresh start at Arcola

At reopened elementary, students, parents and staff seek to forge new identity

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On the first day of school at the newly reopened Arcola Elementary, students repeated a mission statement read by Principal Eric Wilson. He hoped they would remember it by heart in just a few short weeks.

‘‘We are Arcola. Nothing but the best will do. Together we will aim high, respect, communicate, open our hearts and minds, listen and achieve. We are Arcola.”

The mission statement, created by a group of parents, teachers and staff, is a way to get students excited about their school and proud to be Arcola Alligators.

Shaping a new identity for the more than 400 students is important because most of the students had attended one of three schools in the area: Glen Haven, Kemp Mill and Highland.

However, parents say their kids are not at all scared of their new surroundings.

‘‘They woke me up today at 7 a.m. and said, ‘Let’s get ready!’” said Sharai Foreman, who has two children attending the new school.

Foreman said the school is more convenient and closer to her than Kemp Mill, where her children used to go.

Juana Flores of Wheaton said she was happy that her daughter was able to attend the new school. Her family moved to Wheaton from Washington, D.C., this summer.

‘‘The people are very friendly and the principal is excellent.” Flores said.

Her daughter, fourth-grader Virginia Henrique, said she was more excited than nervous about the new school.

‘‘It’s big,” she said as she stared at the new building.

Wheaton resident Charles Collins stood in the multipurpose room taking photos of his kindergartner Kirstyn, 5, as she waited patiently in line for her group to be taken to their classrooms.

‘‘I’m just the proud dad with the camera,” Collins said.

The school looked bright and new and the energy of hundreds of eager students could be felt throughout the halls.

While construction crews were nowhere in sight, Wilson said they had been working around the clock the last few weeks making sure the school was completed. Wilson said the gymnasium and playground would be finished shortly after Labor Day.

In the meantime, students will use the multipurpose room and a field behind the school for gym class and recess.

‘‘It’s a beautiful facility,” Wilson said. ‘‘Things aren’t perfect, but what’s important is the staff is here and ready.”

Arcola Elementary School initially opened as a neighborhood school in the 1950s, but due to low enrollment and county school consolidation, it was closed in 1982 and the building was leased to a private school. The county acquired the building again more than five years ago when nearby schools became crowded.

On the first day, staff helped file the students into lines and took late youngsters to their classrooms. They also led tours to get the students acclimated to their new surroundings.

For teachers, the new school provided them with new challenges and much more planning than any other typical school year.

Marty Fry, the school’s media specialist, came from Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville and has been working to install all the new technology into classrooms and the media center.

In the center’s workrooms, empty boxes were piled in one room, while many pieces of electronic equipment sat waiting to be taken to rooms throughout the school.

The equipment included LCD (liquid crystal display) projectors, as well as the Turning Point response system, which allows students to use hand-held keypads to instantly answer questions and have their answers evaluated by teachers.

Fry said it was every media specialist’s dream to build a center from scratch, but that it was a lot of work.

She said she hopes that the room will be up and running and the classrooms will be fitted with the technology by the end of next week.

Grades for now will include kindergarten through fourth-grade and Head Start, a county pre-kindergarten program for income-eligible families. The elementary school is also a Title I school, which is a designation under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that means more than half of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Title I schools receive extra technical assistance to ensure that they meet adequate yearly progress as outlined by the federal act.

Wilson said as part of the Downcounty Consortium, Arcola is up for the challenges placed on schools designated as Title I.

Robyn Shinn-Miller, an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher, came to Arcola from Olney Elementary School and said she was impressed with how the administration and staff were so organized for the first day.

‘‘There is an energy with a new school,” she said. ‘‘Everyone is very positive.”