Parents of dyslexic youths embark on educational odyssey


June 03, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

There's a waiting list to get on the waiting list for admission to Jemicy School, the exclusive learning center in the Greenspring Valley that has been serving dyslexic children for the past 20 years. Jemicy has about 140 students, but another 200 or so who seem to be on permanent hold for placement. The need and desire for the kind of education offered at Jemicy -- by most accounts, highly effective -- is so great that parents of kids-in-waiting have taken bold action. They've started a school of their own.

Lara and Bruce McLaughlin, John and Sara Lee Tompkins, David and Meredith Leech, Thomas and Ginger Soule, Yusuf and Toni Salam and Maureen McLaughlin are some of the parents who, frustrated with the wait to get their children into Jemicy, organized a new school specializing in their kids' special needs. Who gets the credit for the idea? Steve Wilkins, Jemicy's director. Though well aware of the growing demand for the kind of highly specialized education it offered, Jemicy had no interest in expanding, no desire for a new wing. Because of its low student-teacher ratio, the school boasts the intense focus inherent in a small institution. So, though Wilkins knew he would be inviting competition by suggesting that parents of kids on Jemicy's waiting list start their own school, he promoted the idea and offered his help at a meeting last year.

"There was a long list of kids waiting to get into Jemicy," says Lara McLaughlin. "And [Wilkins] said most of them would never get in. He said it was heartbreaking for him so, 'I would like to help you start a new school.' And he walked us through what was needed and said he would give all [Jemicy's] resources to help us get started."

The parents formed a board of trustees, raised funds, hired a headmaster and an education director, applied for state certification and went on the hunt for a location. They hired as headmaster A. Hamilton Bishop III, formerly of Boys' Latin, and as director of education, Catharine Rommel, formerly of Jemicy. They purchased a building at 4906 Roland Ave., once the site of the Homewood School and the School of Contemporary Education. They obtained certification from the state. They even gave their school a name -- The Odyssey School, inspired by Homer. It opens this fall with a Year One enrollment of 20 to 30 students. "Once we set our mind to it, we couldn't stop," Lara McLaughlin said. "In March, when we hired [Bishop] to be headmaster, that's when I, at least, realized this was really going to happen. That was the turning point."

With the need for the kind of classes Jemicy offers as great as it is, how long will it be before this new "school of their own" has a waiting list of its own? "That's the only part I'm not looking forward to," says Lara McLaughlin, whose husband, Bruce, is Odys-sey's board chairman. "Soon we'll have to make our own waiting list."

Let's not end this tale on a sour note. This Odyssey is just beginning. Good show, folks, and good luck.

Bikini brouhaha

Gee, Dean Muscello, president of the Metropolitan Firefighters Burn Center Fund Inc. is upset with me. He wrote a letter to my boss complaining that I took a shot at his organization -- actually, my dart was not aimed directly at the firefighters (see This Just In, May 25) -- for its promotion of a Bikini Softball event on Father's Day weekend to raise money for the Baltimore Regional Burn Center. "We guess his next article will condemn Ocean City as the sin capital of the east coast and warn all families to stay away in case they might be offended by seeing men or women dressed in bikini swim suits," Muscello wrote. Gee, Dean, I didn't know men and women were going to be playing Bikini Softball. If that's the case, then, hey, no problem, and I apologize for any suggestion that your organization would promote a sexist, less-than-wholesome event. The way you present it, Bikini Softball sounds like the kind of happening to which a fellow would want to bring the entire family. In fact, I asked my 80-year-old mother, the former Rose Popolo, if she wanted to go and she replied, "Oh, that sounds wonderful. When is it?" It's June 18 in Patterson Park, and I hope it's good and hot that day.

Postal pantry

The National Association of Letter Carriers put out a call for nonperishable food items on May 14 and offered to have its members pick up donations on doorsteps during mail delivery that day. Nationally, more than 30 million pounds of food was collected in the drive to help restock food pantries for the poor. Oriole Branch 176 of the union collected 168,229 pounds of food, mostly canned goods, throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area, according to Joe Portera, the local president. Good show.

Honoring Kimmi

Last month, an $825,000 settlement was made to the estate of Kimberly Jo "Kimmi" Spacek, a teen-ager killed in 1991 by a drunken driver in front of Chesapeake High, the school in Essex where she would have graduated this year. Kimmi's parents, Donald and Margaret Spacek, established a scholarship fund in their daughter's name, and the law firm that represented them, Azrael, Gann and Franz, offered to match an annual award of $1,000. The scholarships, for outstanding Chesapeake seniors aspiring to be teachers or physicians -- those were Kimmi's career dreams -- were awarded for the first time last night. The recipients, each receiving $1,000, are: Sarah Dexter-Thornton and Tasha Horrocks.

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