Friends students in Baltimore offer some tips for Chelsea

January 07, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

Eighth-graders at Friends School in Baltimore had some advice for fellow eighth-grader Chelsea Clinton, first daughter-elect, when she starts to Sidwell Friends School in Washington.

Kim Ewart, 13, of Hunt Valley: "Don't be nervous. If Sidwell is anything like this school, everything will be OK."

Tracy Fogelson, 14, of Charles Village: "Be yourself. We all wish her the best."

Sarah Vach, 13, of Loch Raven Village: "If you have problems, you can go to anybody and talk about it at a Friends school."

Charla Doble, 13, of Lauraville: "Go to teachers. They were kids once. They'll understand."

Eight Friends School eighth graders -- six girls and two boys -- gathered yesterday in the office of Middle School Principal Ken Smith at the North Charles Street campus. They had been following the news since it was announced Tuesday that President-elect Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, had decided to // send Chelsea, their 12-year-old daughter, to Sidwell Friends School in Northwest Washington instead of a public school.

Friends in Baltimore and Sidwell Friends share much in common. The Society of Friends, with its philosophy of peace and justice and individual worth, has seven Quaker schools in Maryland and Washington. Friends and Sidwell are the only two with students from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade.

At the start of this school year, Sidwell had 1,030 students, 27 percent of them minority, and Friends 964, with 17 percent minority enrollment. Friends, founded in 1784 and the oldest school in Baltimore, is 101 years older than Sidwell. Sidwell's base tuition of $10,800 is about $1,900 higher than Friends.

Both have more Protestant, Catholic and Jewish students than Quakers.

All the Friends eighth-graders were empathetic, sympathetic, encouraging, aware of fears and trepidations they imagined Chelsea might be going through but strongly feeling that if she likes her school as much as they like theirs, there should be no problem at all.

"I think it will be an easy adjustment for her," said Melissa Ciesla, 13, of Northeast Baltimore.

"A private school like Friends provides diversity," said Danny Shaivitz, 13, of Pikesville. "I like that. You get to know many different kinds of people."

Charla Doble came to Friends last year in the middle of seventh grade. "It only took a month before I felt I had been here forever," she said.

All were supportive of the president-elect, a longtime advocate of public education, for the decision to send Chelsea to a private school.

"He's not dumping on public schools," said Adam Heaps, 13, of Cockeysville. "He's just saying he wants his daughter to go to Friends."

"Bill Clinton is doing the right thing," said Rebecca Leonard, 13, of Charles Village. "He shouldn't have to send his daughter to public school just so he will be liked."

After the initial burst of publicity, Sidwell has closed the campus to the media and cut off interviews of staff and students, spokesman EllisTurner said yesterday. Mr. Turner said Chelsea probably would start there "late this month."

Dr. W. Byron Forbush II, headmaster of Friends since 1960 and a consultant at Sidwell, said that curricula at Quaker schools are similar. Based on that, Dr. Forbush speculated that Chelsea would take English, social studies, science, "math at some level," and a foreign language as her basic program. Beyond that, there would be "something of an arts nature" such as music and drama and other activities like physical education or computers.

He said Chelsea would face some adjustment related to being a "pre-adolescent."

"But young people are resilient," he said. "I have to believe she has already demonstrated in her family life of being in the public eye an unusual ability to cope."

Chelsea Clinton's compatriots 50 miles north in Baltimore wish her well. They said she will enjoy the smaller class sizes (an average of 15 students in an eighth-grade Friends class), the individual attention teachers can give and even the weekly Quaker Meeting of Worship, a silent period of meditation. Although none of the eight are Quaker, they said they have been comfortable with the Friends philosophy of nonviolence.

And, if things don't work for the president's daughter in Washington, maybe there is an alternative.

"If Chelsea doesn't like that school, she can come here," Rebecca Leonard said.

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