New school touts creativity and choices Lessons tailored to student interests XTC EAST COLUMBIA

September 14, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Jo Ann Young wanted a career that would allow her to work and be with her children, so she and her husband, Josh, started an infant care and pre-school center in Columbia five years ago.

Now that their oldest child, 4-year-old Lauren, is nearing school age, the Youngs have expanded this year to include an elementary school that features small class sizes and emphasizes the development of thinking skills and creativity through hands-on learning.

"What I think people will like is the nontraditional outlook on how we offer a curriculum to children," said Ms. Young, 39, who taught elementary school in Prince George's County for seven years, including six years in a gifted and talented student program.

"I'm trying to offer an alternative even to private schools," she said.

The Young School opened last week in the Rivers Center office park in Kings Contrivance village with eight students in a combined first- and second-grade class. The school plans to expand through the fifth grade within two to three years, Ms. Young said.

One of the Young Care child development centers, which offers infant care, pre-school and two kindergarten classes with 24 students, is in the same building. It opened in 1991, three years after the first Young Care center was established in the Oakland Ridge Industrial Center. The Young School and Young Care are accredited by the state Department of Education.

The elementary school offers an "open-ended, thematic approach" designed to give students choices over what they learn, said Ms. Young, who has a master's degree in education from Johns Hopkins University.

"Students can take a subject and go as far as they want to go with it," she said. "So many times, lids or thresholds are put on learning" because of large class sizes and time limitations.

At the Young School, "if a child chooses to learn, the commitment is already there. He will learn," Ms. Young said.

For example, a class will examine a topic such as farming, and from that the students will pursue individual projects incorporating math, science, reading, creative writing, spelling and research, and make presentations.

Often, books will be sent from the Howard County Library based on a child's interest, said education director Melanie Pontell, who is teaching the first- and second-grade class.

"It gives them higher level thinking skills rather than just memorizing information," said Ms. Pontell. "It's geared to what they're interested in. It gives them control over their learning."

Ms. Pontell added that instructors will be accountable for teaching basic skills and topics in sequence, but will have some freedom in designing lessons.

"The curriculum allows me to be creative as a teacher," she said.

Classes will never be larger than 16 students, Ms. Young said.

Alan Browne, a Long Reach village resident, said he enrolled his son, Philip, 7, in second grade at The Young School because of the "opportunity for individual attention, guided research, experimental learning and hands-on approach."

Philip attended Young Care for kindergarten and Deep Run Elementary School for first grade.

Mr. Browne said he also was impressed that the school employs a visiting Spanish teacher and offers computer lessons.

"I think it will help [Philip] better meet his full potential in creativity and learning," Mr. Browne said.

After leaving the Prince George's County school system in 1984, Ms. Young, a Howard County native, went into computer sales.

She decided to return to education before Lauren was born. The Youngs, who moved to Ellicott City from Northern Virginia in 1988, also have a 2-year-old son, Eric.

Mr. Young handles the business operations of the schools.

Tuition for The Young School, which has no admissions testing, is $140 per week for kindergarten and $145 per week for first and second grade, including before- and after-school care.

Since Howard County public schools have a strong reputation, there's not a "real strong pull" for parents to send children to private school, Ms. Young said.

The Young School aims to appeal to parents "looking for something a little extra, a little more say in what's going on," she said.

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