It's 'Yes! Finally!' as kids go back to school

Kwesi Stevenson left his house in West Baltimore a full hour before school began Wednesday morning, eager after the prolonged snow-induced vacation to get back to 10th-grade math and accounting.

He braved the slippery sidewalks. (Stevenson suggested the city spread more salt.) He sometimes walked in the street, he said, careful to look over his shoulder from time to time so the cars whizzing by would be sure to see him. Then he boarded a more-packed-than-usual light rail car with classmate Kali Ashlock, making it to the National Academy Foundation school on the city's east side just in time for the school's 10 a.m. start.

"It was hard," said Stevenson, 15. "The snow is everywhere. I had to walk in the street. But I was so tired of being in the house. When they said school was on, I was like, 'Yes! Finally!' "

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Schools across the region reopened Wednesday for the first time since a blizzard and subsequent storm dropped more than 3 feet of snow about a week ago, shutting down governments and schools across the Mid-Atlantic.

Baltimore City schools and the surrounding suburbs instituted a two-hour delay, which runs through the remainder of the week, in an effort to avoid the chaos of rush hour and ease the commute for both students and teachers still navigating ice and snow-covered streets and sidewalks.

School systems in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties reported smooth reopenings. The only school that did not open as planned was Deale Elementary in Anne Arundel. The school was without power, and BGE was working to fix the problem, said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel schools, who added that several of the system's other schools reported an increase in the number of students being driven to school.

Karen Webber-Ndour, principal at National Academy Foundation, said she and other administrators were "nervous" about students having to walk in the street to get to school, but that she was pleasantly surprised at the success of the school's reopening.

"Things went shockingly well," said Webber-Ndour, who noted that some of the school's 400 students began trickling in as early as 8 a.m. "The adults had bigger problems with traffic. But the children came back on time, and they're happy to be here."

But for some students, it was hard to get back into a routine.

At Running Brook Elementary in Columbia, fourth-grader Bryan Lewis wasn't completely sold on returning to school.

"I'm excited to go back home today," he said, adding that he liked having all the time off from school to snowboard and have snowball fights.

It was a sentiment shared by others around the region. "I feel tired. I don't want to go to school," said Abigail Law, a fifth-grader at Wellwood International Elementary School in Pikesville.

And that is what principals and teachers everywhere seemed to be worrying about: How would they get their kids back on track after a second winter break, especially with the Maryland School Assessments tests scheduled to be held March 8 to 17, just 13 school days away?

"We have broken the momentum," said Wellwood Principal Tricia Rueter, who greeted students on the street instead of at her usual post at the front door. Once the regular school days start on Monday, she said, everyone will quickly be back into their routines.

Pamela Banks, who teaches accounting at National Academy Foundation, said she mostly fretted during her snow-cation over how students would make up their missed work.

"I was stressed out," Banks said. "My husband told me to take a break. I thought, 'Gosh, how am I going to do this?' "

Banks came to a firm conclusion: "They're just going to do a whole lot of homework," she said. "That's the deal."

Mostly, though, students were excited for school.

Darrian Davis, a ninth-grader at the National Academy Foundation, said he made a whopping $300 with his brothers shoveling sidewalks and cleaning off cars. He said he bought new sneakers, and he pulled a gleaming new smartphone from his pocket to show a visitor, another purchase from his snow earnings.

Still, he wanted to come back. "I missed my classmates," said Davis, 14.

Wendy Parker-Robinson, who teaches culinary arts and hospitality at the school, said she kept in contact with students during the break.

"All the students have my cell phone number, so I got many, many texts and calls saying, 'What are you doing?' "

At Running Brook Elementary, Principal Troy Todd spent the morning giving high-fives to students and greeting parents.

"I'm sure everyone was struck with a little cabin fever," said Todd, who spent the early hours of the morning driving around the school's surrounding neighborhoods to make sure it was safe for students to return. Inside a fifth-grade classroom at Wellwood, children settled into their normal routine as they told happy stories, explaining how they experienced the storm with all their senses and talking about the joy of unexpectedly long days of play in the snow.

"It was a damp, moist snow. You could hear the snow drifting," said fifth-grader Aadish Balkiwal.

They relayed tales of building snow forts and igloos, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate. One fifth-grader shared her amazement at being unable to see anything but snow when she sat in a big hole she had dug. Another talked about dealing with the occasional tediousness.

"We were watching the Olympics and I was kind of bored, so I put on five pairs of socks and skated around the kitchen," said Shouran Farasat.

The return after so long seemed strange to some. "I feel like it is the first day of school all over again," said Wellwood fifth-grader Ori Rattner.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and John- John Williams IV contributed to this article.