Article By Naomi Harris, Capital Gazette
This morning, when schools open for first to fifth graders, sixth graders and ninth graders across Anne Arundel County Public Schools, students at Jessup and Arnold will have more than summer vacation to talk about.
They'll be exploring brand new schools.
After two years and nearly $90 million, the new buildings have different layouts and color schemes but the same spacious gymnasiums, cafeterias and classrooms stocked with new equipment and furniture.
Both schools have updated security measures as well with vestibules that require visitors to be buzzed in along with separate bus loop and student drop off areas, greener mechanical and electrical systems.
The expansion of the school educational spaces is incredible. We used to have one cafeteria that was also a cafeteria or a gym so we used to have lunch or P.E,” Arnold Elementary Principal Shauna Kauffman said.
"We now have an amazing gym and a separate cafeteria."
Both schools held opening ceremonies Thursday that were full of speeches from elected officials, school administrators and Board of Education members. They also gave students and their families a chance to tour what’s new.
Parents navigated crowded halls to find the right room and teacher. Some students stopped to chat with one another or to find their locker, which had their names plastered on to the metal doors with designs.
The classrooms now have chrome carts, new movable boards and multiple styles of chairs for students with different physical needs.
Arnold Elementary School replaces a building that opened in 1967. The old school had a capacity of 456 students. At 89,253-square-feet, the new building will serve up to 565 including children of families living at the Naval Academy under a redistricting program.
The school incorporates a theme familiar to people who live near the Chesapeake Bay, Kauffman said.
"The architects worked hard to design the building and the interior design to reflect the area that we live in which is near the Bay and the river,” she said. “So we have color themes are neutral, greens and browns.”
The new school has additional classrooms for STEM and specialized curriculum including a new teacher who will focus solely on arts integration and global studies.
Arts integration teacher Heather Pfaff, stood outside her new classroom Thursday and talked with parents and students about her role in the specialized class.
"Our focus is arts and humanities, we are bringing the arts into project-based learning," Pfaff said.
"So the kids will work on projects for eight to 10 weeks at a time and we will infuse arts throughout."
Previously, the curriculum was integrated into teachers lesson plans but now the new school allows for an additional space to focus on the curriculum once a week.
"I am just excited to see the kids to solve problems and drive their own learning," Pfaff said.
Adam Mancus and his family moved to Arnold two years ago. His kids have been tucked into Severn River Middle School during construction. He was excited about the opening.
“We’ve been driving by for six months just dying to get in and so today enters that dream,” he said.
“It is nice to have our own school.”
Across the county, Jessup Elementary hosted a similar ceremony for the community.
The new building replaces one built in 1955, increased student capacity from 435 to 773 with more than 90,000-square-feet. Principal Anita Dempsey was excited about opening the school, full of new amenities for the students and the teachers.
“We are so excited to open it to my great family and awesome kids,” Dempsey said. “It has been a long time waiting, but I have great parents, kids and teachers who are so patient.”
Dempsey said there is much more natural sunlight in the new building, entering through the halls, the large gymnasium, classrooms and media center thanks to the large windows.
“There were no windows. It was all four walls, it was very dark...,” Dempsey said.
In Cassandra Quigley's classroom, a fifth grade teacher ushered in new parents and students into the room. Cassandra Quigley's door read, "amazing things happen in here" with bright cut out letters. In her classroom, student desks were grouped together in clusters and students began to unpack some school supplies at the assigned desk.
Quigley the new school called it amazing.
"We have windows - we didn't have windows last time. It is awesome," she said. "The facilities are amazing, the gym is huge. I am really excited to be here.
While decorating her new room, she did encounter a challenge with the new wall space. She would have to use painters tape to maintain the new paint and walls so she used other spaces like her cabinets to hang materials, she said.
"But I love the boards in the front so I can teach in the front for when I need a model and the smartboard at the same time,” she said.
Her new teachers desk, which is tucked into the corner of the room, has more space than before so she can use the projector while sitting down, she said.
One of her students, Mara Caltagirone, participated in the opening ceremony as one of the peer mediators. She stood by her new desk and unpacked bags brought by her mother, grandfather and brother.
Even in a new school, she had the same reaction to the start of a new school year.
"It feels weird because every year when I change classrooms I am always scared to meet everyone and everything is different,” she said.
Her mother, Theresa Caltagirone, works for the county school system and said the school means a lot to her.
"The community has struggled with traffic and total chaos when it came to parent parking and all that. This just means so much,” she said.
Arnold Elementary School starts at 8:25 a.m. Tuesday with a 2:50 p.m. dismissal time.
Jessup Elementary School starts a little later, at 9 a.m. and dismisses at 3:25 p.m.