A Student’s View on School
Fifth grader Manon Sullivan discusses Rolling Knolls Elementary.
Manon Sullivan, who will turn 11 next month, is a fifth grader at Rolling Knolls Elementary (RKE). She is a bright and articulate student who is keenly aware of her surroundings. Manon has attended the school since she was in kindergarten and says the thing she will miss most when she goes to Wiley H. Bates Middle School next year is the teachers at RKE.
She's not the only one who feels this way. Other students and parents agree that RKE's teachers are top notch. In the midst of a contract negotiation impasse between the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, RKE teachers continue to make special efforts to honor their commitments to students. For the most part, RKE students like Manon seem unaffected by county budget cuts and teacher unrest.
"There seems to be more school plays and shows," remarked Manon, after thoughtfully considering how school has changed over the years.
The RKE music teacher, Deena Settineri, directs multiple musicals during the school year in addition to sponsoring extracurricular singing and dance groups. Manon participates in both the RKE Special Singers group and the dance group that participate in performances outside of the school. Settineri works with the singers on Wednesday mornings before school starts. Manon is looking forward to singing in the RKE winter concert (she has a solo) and at the holiday concert to be held at the District Court House in downtown Annapolis next month.
Settineri recruited an Annapolis High School student to teach choreography to Manon and the other dancers on Fridays after school. They're working on a routine for the all-county dance festival to be held in February.
Although Manon hasn't noticed the increase in the total number of students at RKE, she said that it feels like there are fewer teachers. She added the school doesn't feel crowded in the hallways but her class size is much larger than it was last year.
When Manon was in fourth grade, there were three teachers with class sizes in the low 20s. This year, there are only two fifth grade teachers with classes that have more than 30 students each — and they're in portable classrooms.
"The trailers are narrower than a regular classroom," she said. "But they're probably about the same size."
She continued to describe the layout of the portable classroom and the L-shaped arrangement of the desks with a table toward the front of the class.
"There aren't enough desks for all of the students," said Manon, who sat at the table with two other students at the beginning of the year.
She explained how sometimes it "got a little crowded" to not have her own space. The students who sat at the table used baskets to store their things (since they didn't have desks with storage areas). A highlight in the portable classroom is an interactive, high-tech SMART Board, purchased with funds raised by the RKE Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).
Manon said that using technology in the classroom makes it "more exciting" to learn and described a lesson taught on the interactive whiteboard by her teacher, Amy Joseph. Having a SMART Board just might be a tradeoff for the "long walk" to her class. Mrs. Joseph's portable classroom was added this year a little further away from where the other ones are clustered. RKE now has seven portable classrooms.
"It would be cool if they arranged them around a courtyard," said Manon, after complaining about the specified route that students must take to the portable classroom to avoid walking on the grass. (No shortcuts allowed.)
She recalled a day when she and another student went to the restroom, located inside the school. They felt a few raindrops fall during the walk into the building but it was pouring by the time they were ready to walk back. They ended up getting soaked and had to sit through class wearing wet clothes.
A tornado warning earlier this school year also forced the students to evacuate the portable classrooms. Manon spoke about how the students were lined up and led to the multipurpose room and then spent the remainder of the day in the media center. She said that, to ensure their safety during the storm warning, students were not allowed to return to their classroom until the end of the day to retrieve their belongings.
"It was so windy and rainy," she said. "It really felt dangerous out there."
However, Manon didn't hesitate to respond that she feels safe at RKE on a daily basis. Despite the inconvenience of being in a portable classroom, she enjoys school, her teachers and the extra activities offered. She said she really wouldn't change anything, but does wish that the school had a separate gym and cafeteria instead of a multipurpose room.
"It feels weird to run around the same room where we eat and sit on the floor to watch shows," she said, wrinkling her nose about all the feet and the food on the floor. "It's not the cleanest place."
RKE is currently on the superintendent's recommended list for the FY 2012 capital budget for a feasibility and design study to assess the school's needs. It opened in 1963, was renovated in 1995, and received cosmetic upgrades (new paint and flooring) in recent years. The age and condition of the school, technology readiness, grounds/playground and capacity (among other factors) will be considered in the study. However, funding for the study at RKE is not currently included in the county's proposed budget.