School's out for students in three counties

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Not much happens in classrooms on the last day of school, but at Villa Cresta Elementary in Baltimore County, the principal made sure students would remember Friday.

She marched up to the roof with a microphone and danced in front of hundreds of students, who joined in to celebrate the last hours of the school year.

Kathleen Bishop is retiring after 30 years in education, the last eight as Villa Cresta's principal. She has taken to the roof before — dressed as a witch to raise money for school events — but this was a surprise for students. The entire student body and the teachers joined in dancing together.

"It's really cool and we didn't expect it," said fifth-grader Mara Wolfe.

Thousands of public school students in Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties started their summer vacations Friday — with excitement as well as sadness. In Baltimore, vacation won't begin until Wednesday.

Students at Dumbarton Middle School in Towson used the last day of school to disregard one of the first things they learned in kindergarten: Keep your hands to yourself.

The final bell was barely audible over the roar of the students as they filed out the doors. Boys with skateboards slung under one arm used the other to pass out high-fives and pat each other on the back.

For others, the final hugs were more emotional. Eighth-grader Morgan Kollman is heading to Towson High School, and she said that the day was actually a sad one for her. Some of her friends will be off to Mercy High School next year, others to the Carver Center for the Arts and Technology.

But saying that last goodbye is routine for teachers such as seventh-grade science teacher Gregory Rowland.

"It feels good to watch a good group go through," he said. "You just recuperate during the summer and get ready for the next one."

This group of outgoing students is especially memorable for crossing guard and Rodgers Forge resident Judy Slaysman. She's in her second year at Dumbarton but has been crossing guard at Rodgers Forge Elementary for seven years.

"One little boy said today, 'You've been my crossing guard since kindergarten,'" Slaysman said after the rush died down. "I usually do miss all of the kids."

Eighth-graders at Wiley Bates Middle School in Annapolis were a bit tardy in departing, because their graduation ceremony lasted about an hour longer than scheduled. Principal Diane Bragdon, who is retiring after 28 years in Anne Arundel County schools, said she was partly to blame for the lengthy ceremony, as she hugged the children before they departed.

All 215 of them.

"This experience of being here seven years at Bates Middle School has been a wonderful experience," said Bragdon, 55, "because together the community and the faculty and staff and the students really built a program that enlivens the whole city."

The fifth-graders at Villa Cresta were wistful about the end of the school year. "It's sad. It is our last day of elementary school and I have been here for six years," Mara said.

Students noted that many friends will be split up as they move on to different middle schools.

"I'm happy that it's summer but I am sad," said Julia King, 10.

"Because everyone is moving on," said Aaliyah Royer, finishing her friend's sentence.

At Burleigh Manor Middle School in Howard, eighth-graders hugged and cried, and spoke solemnly of the bittersweet ending. "You just have to keep talking so that you won't cry," said Lily Hanrahan, as she signed memory books with her group of friends at the eighth-grade farewell breakfast.

"It's the second-saddest day of our lives," said student Moniesha Lawings. The saddest, she anticipates, will be high school graduation.

Pranav Ganapathy, who served as president of the Burleigh Manor student council this year, said he was sad to leave a place that's been "a home away from home to me."  

"People have seen me as a leader, and I've put so much of my heart into this school," Ganapathy said, recounting with pride the school's recent efforts to raise money for a homeless shelter, and to launch a healthy eating initiative. "It's like an artist leaving a painting."

Baltimore Sun reporters Brian Conlin, Sara Toth and Jon Meolin contributed to this article.

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