Double session, double trouble

Published Aug. 29, 1995|Updated Oct. 4, 2005

Nicholas Cusella was less than two hours into his first school day of double sessions when he had this to say:

"I just don't like this double sessions thing. It's not fair to us."

Nicholas, 8, and more than 600 other Pasco youngsters thought until a few weeks ago that they would spend Monday _ the first day of school _ in the brand-new Denham Oaks Elementary. But last month, a dispute over who would provide water to the school halted construction.

The dispute is between the county and Mad Hatter Utilities Inc. and also involves developer Mike Orsi, who sold the district the land for Denham Oaks. While the three sides continue to wrangle, Denham Oaks and Lake Myrtle Elementary, which has 750 pupils, will share one school.

Lake Myrtle youngsters start school at 7:30 a.m. and finish at 12:30 p.m. Denham Oaks pupils start at 12:45 p.m. and end at 5:30 p.m.

In many respects, the first day for each set of pupils was typical _ crying children reluctant to be left at a strange place, lost youngsters looking for the right school bus.

But there was plenty that was different.

A huge traffic jam at 12:30 p.m. so clogged the roads that school buses bringing in children for Denham Oaks classes could not get through and had to be rerouted the wrong way on Weeks Boulevard. School administrators directed traffic.

Guidance counselor Tammy Kimpland was called into the fray, motioning the buses along Weeks. She found that some motorists were not pleased and were venting their frustrations with obscene hand gestures.

"Isn't this a zoo today?" she said. "Can you imagine this every day? It's going to be like this until double sessions are over."

Beyond the traffic, parents and youngsters alike said adjusting to the disrupted schedules was proving tough. The youngest children may have the most trouble with the afternoon schedule.

Surely, there will be more scenes like the one in kindergarten teacher Kristen Eales' class.

A couple of children took short naps following a 25-minute recess that started at 3:05 p.m. One boy continued to doze past the 30-minute rest period, which started at a time he would be home from school if he weren't on double sessions. Mrs. Eales at first implored the other children to be quiet, but eventually the noise level rose and, still, the boy slept.

Older children complained they are missing out on extracurricular activities and favorite TV shows. And Nicholas, the boy who was quick to proclaim his dislike for double sessions, feels cheated out of the learning he had looked forward to.

"The kids who go to school on the regular schedule will learn a lot more and the kids in Lake Myrtle will learn a little more and we probably won't learn anything," he said. "In other words, this just plain stinks."

By the time they have lunch and recess, there won't be much time left for learning, added Nicholas, who is in Janet Pons' continuous progress classroom of third- fourth- and fifth-graders.

Mrs. Pons started her teaching career six years ago on double sessions for a few weeks at Seven Springs Elementary School while Deer Park was being completed. Denham Oaks teachers were easily recognizable _ they were the ones lugging plastic crates, stuffed book bags and cartons of materials.

Mrs. Pons "desk" is one of the kids' tables and a small chair. She didn't complain, though. In fact, she said that Laurie Howard, the Lake Myrtle teacher whose room she is sharing, has been quite accommodating.

Some youngsters in Mrs. Howard's class also were having a hard time adjusting to the schedule.

Sarah Birchfield, 8, usually gets up at 7:30 or 8 a.m. for school. Monday, she was up at about 6:30 a.m.

"It's kind of hard getting up that early in the morning," said Sarah, who was sitting at the same cluster of desks that Nicholas and three of his classmates were to share in the afternoon.

The youngsters also will eat in the classrooms during the duration of double sessions because the cafeteria is being used for day care. Children were served brown bag lunches containing a foil-wrapped slice of cheese pizza, carrot and celery sticks, a banana and milk.

It took youngsters as long as 15 minutes to get their lunch and return to the classroom, but Mrs. Howard chalked up most of the day's concerns as "pretty typical first-day problems."

That may have been so for the two schools and their staffs, but parents were finding the day anything but typical.

Ann Getz had hoped to get a job in sales this fall, but put those plans on hold so that she can drive her daughter, Jenny, a Lake Myrtle second-grader, to and from school.

"You do what you have to for your children," she said, voicing a commonly heard sentiment.

She blames Mad Hatter Utilities owner Larry Delucenay for the situation.

"I just think that Mad Hatter has done a lot of things wrong in this county and people are getting tired of what he does," she said. "He just needs to let the county handle the water and back off."

Ellen Gumina, who was at the school to pick up her daughter Kacey, a Lake Myrtle pupil, pinpointed a different villain: Clearwater developer Mike Orsi.

"I think Mr. Orsi should be out here directing traffic," she said. "Traffic used to back up like this, but never for this long and never this messy."

_ Staff photographer Jack Rowland contributed to this report.