Glenelg college preparatory school to hold 40th anniversary activities

May 19, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

As the story goes, Gen. Joseph Tyson's wife named her jTC castle-like house and lands after a Scottish manor house because the word -- Glenelg -- was a palindrome, a word which reads the same backward or forward.

But Glenelg Country School, founded in her home more than 100 years later and marking its 40th anniversary this weekend, looks quite different from each direction.

From one view, there is what one might expect of a private college preparatory school:

There is the old manor, with its battlements and flag bearing a red dragon on a white and green field, and the bagpipes at graduation.

There is the dress code, which requires young men to wear ties and nice shirts.

From the other end of campus, there is a different look.

In the Gould Building, named for founder Kingdon Gould Jr., there is a three-story area with glass walls, an open library and a second-floor mezzanine.

Students recline on the floor of carpeted hallways, books spread in front of them.

Vast lawns converted long ago from a six-hole golf course serve as open-air classrooms on sunny days or picnic areas for students eating hot dogs -- grilled by Headmaster Ryland O. Chapman III.

The old and the new, the buttoned-down and the sneaker sets, will converge this weekend as the school celebrates four decades of educating the Princeton, Yale and Smith-bound children from Howard and other Central Maryland counties.

Starting with 35 first- through eighth-graders in September 1954, the school has grown to 425 students, attending kindergarten through 12th grade.

This year's operating budget was $3.5 million -- about 95 percent of that from fees and annual tuition, which ranges from $3,500 for kindergarten to $8,350 for high school. Donations provide the remaining 5 percent of the budget and have also been used to build the school's annual fund to about $83,000 to pay for new programs and equipment.

Tomorrow, at a $75 black-tie dinner for parents, alumni, administrators and donors, Mr. Gould will unveil plans to expand the school to 550 students. The plans include construction of a building to house the middle school and administration, a performing arts center and a secondary school athletic complex.

During the afternoon, the school will start its celebration with a student-teacher birthday party. Families and former staff members will join a larger event at 5 p.m. featuring a barbecue and stuffed dragons (the school's mascot) dropped from ultralight aircraft.

Mr. Chapman, who was a teacher and administrator at Boys' Latin in Baltimore for 20 years, said it isn't new buildings that set a school apart.

"Intangibles are really what it's all about. If you had a good teacher and good kids, you could teach them in a room anywhere," he said.

The small classes, quality teachers and dedicated students and parents are what distinguish the school, Mr. Chapman said.

Still, one thing that seems to captivate parents and students alike is the school's setting, 80 acres of rolling forest and lawn, with a large pond and mature evergreen trees towering above the lower school's main entrance.

"You've got an outstanding school, and you've got the trees and the grass -- they take you outside for classes," said Evan Sitar, a 17-year-old junior who lives in Ellicott City.

"It's very liberal here. . . . The environment makes a big difference," said Evan, who starred in the spring production of "The Sound of Music" in the upper school's drama classroom, which doubles as a theater of about 100 seats.

Evan's English and drama teacher, Chuck Henry, takes a more academic view, praising the school's emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and the quality of its faculty.

One of the school's graduation requirements is that seniors complete a project resembling a college thesis and involving several disciplines.

"They not only write the paper, but they have to give an oral defense of it," Mr. Henry said.

Mr. Henry, who has taught at several other private schools, said Glenelg Country School's teachers are "smart and well-read, and I don't think you can always say that."

Mr. Henry, 30, has taught at the school for only two years, but June Gorham, 62, has seen 20 years of first-grade classes and plans to retire next month.

"My first impression, as I drove out after answering an ad was, 'This is too good to be true, this is so beautiful,' " Ms. Gorham said.

Since then, she has enjoyed the satisfaction of tracking her former students.

"It's interesting to see them proceed through the years. You can't do that at many other schools," Ms. Gorham said.

On June 10, the school will hold commencement for its fifth group of seniors, 17 graduates in all.

Success will not come easily for the school, however. Mr. Chapman worries about how he will conduct graduation exercises in the future with larger classes. In two years, 30 seniors are expected to graduate.

"Right now, we don't have an outside speaker. It takes too long," Mr. Chapman explained. "Every student stands up and the headmaster talks for about three minutes about each kid."

With 30 graduates however, the speeches will have to be shortened considerably, which Mr. Chapman said would disappoint parents who have been looking forward to their children's recognition.

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