New school year, new elementary school

Sargent Shriver to help ease overcrowding of Aspen Hill, Wheaton schools

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Sargent Shriver Elementary School opened for the first time this school year. Built on the site of the former Connecticut Park Elementary School in Aspen Hill, the school will serve students who previously would have attended Wheaton Woods, Viers Mill and Weller Road elementary schools.

Much like their terrapin mascot, the staff and students of the new Sargent Shriver Elementary School are off to a slow, but steady start.

Janet L. Dunn, principal of Sargent Shriver Elementary, said the new school opened Aug. 28 following about a year and a half of construction, which began in April 2005.

The school, more than 91,000 square feet, is built on the site of the former Connecticut Park Elementary School. After closing in 1981, the school was renamed Connecticut Park Center and served as a technology training site for county teachers with a built-in day care facility.

The cost of renovating Sargent Shriver Elementary, including furnishings, totaled $17.5 million, said Kate Harrison, assistant director of Montgomery County Public Schools’ Public Information Office.

Dunn said the school, which is a part of the Wheaton Cluster, was opened to alleviate overcrowding at Viers Mill, Weller Road and Wheaton Woods elementary schools. Sargent Shriver Elementary currently serves about 470 students, but she said more are expected to enroll.

‘‘We’re projected for approximately 500 students,” said Dunn, who served as principal of Takoma Park Elementary School for eight years. ‘‘We’re not there yet, but we have students enrolling every day now.”

The school is named for Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., the driving force behind the Peace Corps, founder of numerous social programs and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The husband of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Shriver and his family live in Potomac.

Out of the names recommended by the Montgomery County Board of Education, Dunn said, ‘‘Our naming committee’s first choice was Sargent Shriver. [The committee] felt strongly that they wanted somebody that represented Maryland, and the Shriver family goes way back in Maryland. A Shriver ancestor was one of the signers of the first Maryland State Constitution. They also resonated with Sargent Shriver’s involvement with the Peace Corps. Head Start, Job Corps — those all, they felt, were good representations of someone to name the school for.”

She noted that while Shriver, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, was not able to visit the school, his daughter-in-law Linda Potter and granddaughter Rose Shriver were present during the second day of classes.

Following the example set forth by Shriver and his family, Dunn said she and the rest of the school’s staff hope to foster a love of education and a sense of community involvement in their students.

‘‘Our vision for the school that we developed with staff and community input is to be a community of life-long learners,” she said. ‘‘Where children, you know, have high achievements, but we’re also developing their sense of self-esteem and their concepts about community service, which we think are definitely what Sargent Shriver stood for.”

Dunn added that the school’s motto is ‘‘Whatever it takes,” noting that she and the rest of the staff will do just that in an effort to build Shriver Elementary into a cohesive community.

‘‘We have to build our own school community,” she said. ‘‘This community of parents is coming from three well-established schools and the parents were happy with their schools, so it wasn’t like they were eager to flee from those schools. So, we have to have our own sense of community now and be sure that people are happy to be a part of Sargent Shriver Elementary.

‘‘That’s a big challenge in terms of the community, so we’re counting a lot on [a] collaboration between staff and parents to have the kinds of activities and programs that make parents proud to be a part of the school, as well as the students,” she added.

In terms of programs, the school already houses the Sargent Shriver Child Development Center, which is sponsored by Rockville Day Care Association Inc., as well as Multi-Disciplinary Educational Training and Support, a program that offers educational help to non-English-speaking students with limited educational experience. The building will also soon play host to Linkages to Learning, which offers services to at-risk children and their families to improve performance in school.

What the school does still lack, though, is a completed playground, basketball court and gymnasium. Dunn said the gym is scheduled to be finished by the end of this month, but for the time being, students have their physical education classes in one of the empty fifth grade classrooms. Those classrooms are not in use because the school currently only houses pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Next year, Dunn said, the school will have fifth grade classes.

Despite the kinks and growing pains, though, she said students seem to be adjusting to their new school just fine.

‘‘They’re very eager to be here and they’re settling in nicely,” Dunn said.