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North County schools deal
with overcrowding issues

Chris Patterson

Four of the 23 Frederick County Public Schools whose attendance will be restricted this year for being at or beyond their capacity are in northern Frederick County.

Walkersville Elementary and High, Thurmont Primary and Emmitsburg Elementary schools are all projecting enrollment beyond capacity this school year. Each of those schools is listed as "restricted," meaning they will not allow students outside their regular attendance area to register.

Despite the overcrowding, several of the schools' principals have a positive approach to handling this school year's challenges.

Emmitsburg Elementary Principal Wanda Severance said despite projections last year by developers and their attorneys, saying the school would be below capacity, about 330 students will attend this year. The school's capacity is 317 students.

"There's been a lot of development and a lot of new kids," Severance said.

The final attendance numbers won't be available for a few weeks, Severance said, and so far everything is going well. The students are happy to be back to school, as well.

"Everybody's pumped up and excited about being here including the teachers and me," she said.

Walkersville Elementary Principal Stephanie Brown said her school was projected to house 661 students this school year, but about 681 students are registered so far. Walkersville has been over capacity before and was closed to outside registrations last year. The building's capacity is 541 students.

The school has five portable classrooms outside the main building to handle the overflow. But despite what some might consider an inconvenience, Brown said some teachers and students like the portables.

Children in grades three and five use the portables, and many like the fact that they can adjust the heat and air-conditioning independently for each unit. They also like being able to make a little more noise than is allowed in the main building.

Brown calls that "opportunities to engage in cooperative learning," but the bottom line is the teachers can let the children participate in learning games that are sometimes too noisy to do in the open spaces of the main building.

"Would we choose to expand our building if we could? We certainly would," she said.

But until then everyone will make the best of what they have, she added.

Principal Debra Myers of Thurmont Primary School wasn't expecting to be over capacity so soon after the school opened. Only a few years old, the school has three portables outside this year, for second-grade students, and is at 111 percent capacity.

She is thrilled, however, with the way the teachers and students are handling the situation precipitated by starting all-day kindergarten at the school this year.

"The teachers and children are doing very well because our teachers worked so hard at making their environment welcoming and child-friendly," Myers said. "They have done a superb job of creating learning communities."

Myers said the teachers put down new carpet and put "pretty things" on the walls to make the environment inviting.

Myers said she was not surprised to hear each school was handling the overcrowding in a positive way.

"Our teachers can rise to the occasion and do what they need to do for the benefit of the kids," she said.

Walkersville High School officials were not available for comment before press time.

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