- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

As the last school bus pulled into the grounds of Holmes Middle School in Fairfax County early yesterday morning, a full 10 minutes before the bell rang, Pat Carstater sighed with relief.
It was her first day on the job as a bus route supervisor for the Annandale pyramid, and Ms. Carstater had to cope with the driver shortage by asking some drivers to make second runs and by sending out her assistant supervisors to pick up children.
"It is like having all the pieces of the puzzle and making sure they fit," she said.
Despite such adjustments because of driver shortages, things were remarkably glitch-free yesterday as Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery counties, Alexandria and the District welcomed 400,000 students and more than 4,000 new teachers back to school on the first day.
Every system except the District saw a rise in the number of students. And the spanking new Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary in Germantown got its taste of the burgeoning enrollment in the area when the school, built for 450 students, actually got as many as 570.
But Principal Judy Brubaker said they had expected something like that "by just looking around us."
So she ordered everything extra for the school — extra desks, extra supplies. "We're using all our classrooms," she said.
The school, which has a science focus, is in a neighborhood so new it cannot be found on a map. Everywhere there are signs of development, with town houses and single-family homes in various stages of construction. Inside the school, the smell of paint is still fresh. Construction continues behind closed doors at one end of the building.
Yesterday, Mrs. Brubaker wore black at the opening of her school because, she said, she would be spending lunch hour in the school's "multipurpose room" that doubles as a cafeteria, with kindergartners through fourth-graders.
"I knew I would be getting ketchup and milk all over myself," she said, opening her umpteenth carton of milk in moments snatched between welcoming students via a microphone placed on a stage at one end of the room.
"If you need to find me, I am the one with the braces on the teeth and polka dots on the toes," she told the children later, as they filed past her.
Fairfax County, which got nearly 4,000 more students this year, also opened a new school in Herndon — McNair Elementary — while Arlington opened the new Carlin Springs Elementary.
As the children poured into Holmes Middle School, Principal Roberto Pamas took time to greet them. It is his seventh year at the school and 17th as an educator, but the first day is always a surprise, he said.
"I am always excited on the first day. When the new students come in, we want to be here for them. We want this to be their home away from home."
In the school's library, parents of sixth-graders entering the school for the first year gathered to meet with the staff. Connie Wilson prayed with her son, Antonio Jenkins, before bringing the sixth-grader to his new school. The evening before, she said, she prepared him for middle school with a talk about drugs, tobacco and "following Catholic values."
"He was up at 5 a.m. today," she said, because he had been very excited about school. "And he wanted to wear his necklace — he is beginning to think about his appearance. In elementary school he didn't care at all."
Michelle Gerchen, Jessica Han and Lindsay Vormack, all 9-year-old fourth-graders at Matsunaga, said they were excited because they felt like the "oldest" at school. At Matsunaga, the fifth grade will be added next year, so right now all three girls get to be on patrol — an honor usually reserved only for fifth-graders.
"We make sure everyone gets to school safely, and help children find the places they want to go," Michelle said.
"I am excited because I knew I would be the oldest here. I knew people would look up to me," Lindsay said.

Teachers shared the excitement.
First-grade teacher Kevin Burns said his goal for the year was to get all his students to read. "I love the challenge," he said.
Starting a new school, Mrs. Brubaker said, had been a dream. "I got to select all my staff — or rather we all selected each other."
One of her sweetest moments was when she appointed one of her own former students as a first-year teacher at her new school.
At Poolesville High School in Montgomery County, students returned to some highly publicized changes: The county school board last week decided to remove all references to "Indians" from the school's sports teams.
Students expressed mixed views about the change.
"I want to graduate as an Indian," said Kayiischa, a senior at the school.
Her friend, Erika, had a different viewpoint. "It's good they changed it. Nobody uses the term Indians anymore — you call them Native Americans. I understand that they feel offended by that."
Christian Plaep contributed to this article.

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