Charles County Schools Open with New Programs, Safety Messages - Southern Maryland Headline News

Charles County Schools Open with New Programs, Safety Messages

John Hanson Middle School special education teacher Jennifer Connelly, right, greets a Hanson student, left, as he arrives on the school bus for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 24. Charles County Public Schools opened its doors today for the 2009-2010 school year. (Submitted photo)
John Hanson Middle School special education teacher Jennifer Connelly, right, greets a Hanson student, left, as he arrives on the school bus for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 24. Charles County Public Schools opened its doors today for the 2009-2010 school year. (Submitted photo)

LA PLATA, Md. (Aug. 24, 2009)—Sheriff deputies joined school officials to welcome high school students back to school this morning with reminders of teen driving laws and safety messages. Officers were passing safety flyers and checking for seat belts as student drivers arrived for the start of the 2009-2010 school year. The focus on safe driving is an effort by Charles County Public Schools and the Charles County Sheriff's Office to prevent teen driving accidents and fatalities.

Charles County Public Schools opened Monday, Aug. 24 with limited enrollment increases, the addition of several new academic programs and plans for combating a possible outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus in the fall.

More than 26,800 students were expected to start the 2009-2010 school year, an enrollment prediction that includes an 80-student increase and follows a three-year trend of limited growth. This is in contrast to the triple-digit student population increases of the preceding two decades and the smallest increases since the early 1980s.

New Teacher Hires

The number of teacher hires decreased this year. Most teaching positions are filled, and Keith Hettel, assistant superintendent of human resources said as of Friday, Aug. 21, the system had hired 169 teachers, including 84 middle and high school, 29 elementary and 56 special education teachers.

Instructional Programs

Several new academic opportunities are available to students this year. Gateway to Technology has been expanded to all middle schools, and a new program, Magic Planet, will be piloted at four elementary schools. A program called Algebraic Thinking is being implemented at all middle schools, and three schools have been selected to participate in an in-school academic support program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID).

Gateway to Technology is a middle school pre-engineering course and part of the nationally recognized Project Lead The Way high school engineering curriculum. Gateway to Technology is activity-oriented and designed to help students in grades six through eight explore math, science and technology. Units of study include Design and Modeling, Automation and Robotics, The Magic of Electrons, The Science of Technology, and Flight and Space. The course focus is on showing, not telling, students how to use engineering skills to solve everyday problems and to help students build stronger math, science and technology inquiry skills.

The Magic Planet is a digital video globe and projection device that allows students to view and explore dynamic digital media of the earth. The Magic Planet, along with teacher lessons, helps to improve the way students understand and apply concepts to global systems. Magic Planet explores climate, geologic history, the biosphere and many more earth related concepts. It is being piloted at four elementary schools this school year. They are William B. Wade, Walter J. Mitchell, Malcolm and Berry elementary schools.

Middle schools are adding Algebraic Thinking, which presents math concepts using manipulatives, pictorial representations and algorithms to help students develop a better understanding of concepts and math. Earlier this month, classroom teachers received five days of training to familiarize them with the course and teaching techniques.

Three schools, General Smallwood Middle School, and Westlake and Henry E. Lackey high schools, are adding AVID to help prepare students for college eligibility and success. AVID places academically average students in advanced classes and is part of the school system's continuing efforts to eliminate achievement gaps for minority, rural, low income and other students without a college-going tradition in their families. Team members at each school received one week of training this summer to implement the program and to incorporate AVID methods throughout the school.

School Bus Inspections

When Charles County's 278 bus drivers started their routes this morning, all buses had undergone annual inspections, according to Santy DiSabatino, director of transportation. Inspections include under-the-hood mechanical checks as well as examination of the exterior and interior lighting, seats, floors and safety equipment. The school system inspected all buses earlier this month as required by state law. Additionally, drivers received four hours of training. All bus drivers have been hired, and there are no new bus routes. New in transportation this year is School Locator, an automated way for parents to check their child's school bus route. School Locator can be found through a link on the school system's Web page at

Charles County's buses travel 33,996 miles daily, which adds up to 6.1 million miles per year. Most students ride a school bus at some time, and 21,000 students ride daily. In Charles County, 28 independent contractors provide the school bus services for Charles County Public Schools.

H1N1 Preparations

Letters are being sent home this week with all students to update parents on preparations for the H1N1 virus, as well as announcing the availability of flu mist for seasonal flu. In October, the Charles County Department of Health will offer flu mist in all elementary schools for students with parental permission.

School-aged children are most susceptible to the H1N1 virus because they have not been exposed to seasonal flu vaccines as often as adults. Last school year, an outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus caused several Maryland schools to close for a short time; however, no Charles County schools were closed. Health officials have said schools and counties should prepare for a potentially severe outbreak this school year. No plans are being made to close schools, but plans are being made to isolate sick children and to limit exposure and the spread of germs through education of proper hand washing and respiratory etiquette. The letter and other health information can be found on the school system Web site at

Mark Your Calendars

Parent Handbook/Calendars are being sent home with every student this week. Important dates in September are:

-- Sept. 7 - Labor Day, schools and offices closed;

-- Sept. 8 - First day for category 3 prekindergarten students; Board of Education meeting, 1 p.m.; Public Forum, 6 p.m.;

-- Sept. 16 - Minority Achievement Committee meeting, 4:30 p.m., Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building; Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, 6:30 p.m., Starkey;

-- Sept. 18 - Schools closed for students, teacher in-service day;

-- Sept. 23 - Mid-Atlantic College Fair, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. for students; 6-8 p.m. for the public, North Point High School;

-- Sept. 28 - Interims issued; and

-- Sept. 30 - Two-hour early dismissal.

Source: The Charles County public school system

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