FOR THE 11 students who received certificates at St. Elizabeth School in Ednor Gardens this year, the annual commencement ceremonies carried more than the usual meaning. Not many years ago, these same young people would have faced limited opportunities, at best. But each of them either has a job lined up or is enrolling in further job training.
The order that founded St. Elizabeth, the Sisters of Saint Francis, has a history of undertaking tough challenges, the tasks found in "the smallest corner of the Lord's vineyard" as the order's founder described it. The task of educating retarded and mentally disabled adolescents fits that description, particularly when the society has not fully acknowledged that with proper training many of these young people can hold jobs and live independently.
The sisters opened the school in 1961, when the needs of retarded adolescents were neglected elsewhere. Since then, other schools have also taken up the cause of educating mentally retarded young people. But other needs have become evident, such as the lack of services for adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems, often compounded by mental limitations. Today, the school serves students who are diagnosed as mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed or even autistic. Some have multiple problems.
These young people can pose daunting problems. Among the 117 students enrolled last year, 19 were so severely disabled that without St. Elizabeth's program they would likely be placed in residential institutions out of state, at great cost to Maryland taxpayers.
As it goes about its work, St. Elizabeth is raising the horizons of young people who, until recently, were given little hope of a self-sufficient future. These are big victories. Clearly, St. Elizabeth is an essential resource for this region. As it undertakes expansion of its facilities it deserves the region's support.