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Thousands Welcome Summer Vacation

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Huddled together in a classroom stripped of decoration, the sixth-graders at Township School eyed the wall clock ticking off the seconds until summer vacation began.

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One!” they shouted in unison before letting out whoops of delight and turning to hug each other before streaming off the Simi Valley elementary campus.

“I’m going to miss this place,” said 12-year-old Mary Abler, who was planning an end-of-school pizza party for her friends. “But it’ll be nice to get out of here.”

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For thousands of students across Ventura County, Thursday was a time for mixed emotions, tearful goodbys and very little class work. For youngsters in certain grades, the day held even more significance.

Kindergartners, for instance, looked forward to using the bigger playground next year.

“Ours is so small,” complained 6-year-old Jane Ann Hill, referring to Township’s fenced-in yard for kindergartners. “The big one has monkey bars--a really short one and a really long one.”

Fifth-graders, meanwhile, realized they would soon hold seniority on campus. And sixth-graders spoke anxiously of starting junior high in the fall.

“Next year, all the eighth-graders are going to pick on us,” fretted 12-year-old Bryan Brown, a student at Park Oaks elementary in Thousand Oaks.

At elementary schools in Thousand Oaks and at all schools in Oak Park and Simi Valley, the final bell rang about noon. Classes end today in Moorpark and at intermediate and high schools in the Conejo Valley.

With textbooks already packed away and report cards written, campuses took on a carnival-like atmosphere. Students milled about signing yearbooks, munching sweets and playing outdoor games.

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At Park Oaks School in Thousand Oaks, parents helped organize a field day with events such as a water balloon toss and three-legged races. Sixth-graders were treated to a fiesta in the cafeteria, which was festooned with sombreros, blankets and pinatas. And kindergartners walked to a nearby pizza parlor, where they rolled dough and decorated individual pies.

“We do everything we can to send these kids off on a positive note,” said Park Oaks Principal Rachelle Morga.

Corralling students for a relay game, teacher Sue Peelle said trying to maintain order on the final day of school was a near-impossible task.

“I’ve already been hit with one water balloon,” she said, laughing. “They’ve been waiting all year for this and this is their chance.

“They are so excited. The rules are just out the window.”

Peelle said teachers would also be celebrating when the final bell rang.

In Simi Valley, school officials said January’s earthquake--which caused damage at a number of campuses--and a fatal stabbing on the campus of Valley View Junior High had made it a trying year.

“I think everyone’s looking forward to going home and regrouping,” said Lynn Friendman, principal of Big Springs School. “I think everybody’s going to breathe a sigh of relief.”

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Some students said they thought the earthquake had brought their classes closer together.

As tears streamed down her face, Township sixth-grader Sandra Silva gave a goodby hug to her teacher, Ingrid Berman.

“She’s not just a teacher, she’s a friend,” Sandra said. “We’ll all miss her.”

For Berman, Thursday brought an end to her first teaching assignment. Four months ago she stepped in to take over the class following a string of substitute teachers.

“By the time I got here, these kids had been through a lot,” she said. “But it was neat and we learned together.”

Sixth-graders spent part of the day debating the pros and cons of moving on to intermediate school. Better food, more teachers and lockers were considered pluses. But students also worried about harder homework, stricter rules and bullying eighth-graders.

“I can’t wait, said Lindsay Zane, a Park Oaks sixth-grader. “But I’m going to miss my teachers here.”

Although Thursday marked the end of the spring semester, hundreds of students will take only a short break before resuming class. In Thousand Oaks, for instance, 450 elementary students have registered for summer school along with 875 students in the seventh through 12th grades. In the Oak Park district, about 400 students plan to attend summer classes.

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Other students said they looked forward to spending a long, languorous summer at neighborhood pools or on trips with their families.

“We’re happy we can go to Magic Mountain and do stuff, but we’re sad we’re not going to see people,” said 12-year-old Melanie Jones from Park Oaks.

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