UNIVERSITY PARK, Md. – It’s a sunny day, but the rain from the night before has left the ground soaked and muddy. A large puddle blocks the door to the trailer where Kim Rollins teaches a University Park Elementary fourth-grade class.
The only way into the trailer is to slosh through the puddle and, inside, the floor is streaked with brown footsteps and water marks that the 26 children have tracked in.
“It gets wet in here,” said Katrina Daniel, one of Rollins’ students.
Getting wet is just one of the irritations faced by Rollins’ class — and by thousands of other teachers and students forced to hold classes in more than 1,700 “relocatable” classrooms around the state.
Because of booming student populations and aging schools, about 42,700 public school students are studying in trailers in the state, roughly 5 percent of all students.
Trailer classrooms, designed as a quick fix to overcrowding, are now standard in school systems across the state. Every county but Kent uses them. Prince George’s County, where Rollins teaches, leads the state with 396 trailers, and there are 1,709 statewide.
From the outside, they look anything but temporary. The size and shape of a construction trailer, they sit on concrete foundations with wooden steps to the door and heating and air- conditioning mounted next to them.
Inside, they are sparse but functional, with bare floors, drop ceilings and two blackboards. Desks are grouped together to save space.
“I’ve never had to teach in one of those things, thank God,” said Pat Foerster, vice president of the Maryland State Teacher’s Association.
Foerster said that the seclusion of trailer classrooms often places a burden on teachers, who are cut off from the rest of the school.
“They put everyone in an extraordinarily difficult situation,” Foerster said.
But she added that she did not believe trailer education harms children, either.
“Most kids are really very flexible,” she said. “It’s a difficult learning situation, but it’s better than an overcrowded class.”
An elementary education expert agreed.
“I can’t see anything terrible about them,” said Laura Ellis, a professor at the College of New Rochelle, N.Y., and an expert in child development and education.
“The important issue is what’s going on in the classroom,” she said. “Ultimately, the teacher determines the quality of education, not the environment.”
But the environment could be changing.
Gov. Parris Glendening has proposed nearly $222 million in school construction spending this year, the highest level in over 20 years.
The school construction budget will not be finalized until May, but school boards are already planning renovations, additions and new schools to move students out of trailers.
“In the next few years, the number of relocatable classrooms should be leveling off,” as more permanent classrooms are built, said Yale Stenzler, executive director for the Interagency Commission on School Construction.
Rollins and her students, meanwhile, make do.
As students settled in on a recent morning, she stood at her desk in the corner of the trailer, collecting stacks of dollar bills the children brought in for a Valentine’s Day party. She dealt patiently with four things at once, telling students to take their seats and begin their work while she took attendance.
Rollins said that trailers have good and bad points.
The location is the chief complaint. On rainy days, fourth graders need to brave the elements just to go to the bathroom.
Students also miss a few of the main building’s basic amenities, such as running water, Internet service and television, Rollins said. She makes students bring water bottles with them, rather than letting them walk all the way back into school for a drink.
School bells are also a problem. Rollins has sometimes kept students after school because she did not hear the bell and when there’s a fire drill, “someone needs to come from the office and tell us,” she said.
But at the same time, Rollins and her students said there are advantages to being away from the school building.
“We don’t get many visitors out here,” Rollins said. “It’s a big change, a very big change. You can talk as loud as you want and not worry about bothering the other classrooms.”
Her students also appreciate the silence.
“It’s more quieter,” said Alfred Chen. “There’s not a lot of noise from other classrooms.”
Students also said they prefer being outdoors, even when they have to walk through the rain.
“You always get to go outside on a sunny day,” said Corey Calliston.
2 Anne Arundel
111 Baltimore County
167 Baltimore City
203 Prince George’s
396 Queen Anne’s
46 St. Mary’s
14 State total