School founded with prayer, fear Beginning: On Sept. 3, Redeemer Classical Christian, which aims for "Christ-centered education" emphasizing the basics, opens in a 200-year-old farmhouse near Kingsville.

The Education Beat

August 11, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

HOW DO YOU "do" a school?

In the case of the Redeemer Classical Christian School, which begins life Sept. 3 in an old farmhouse in northeast Baltimore County, you do it fearfully and prayerfully.

You scrounge for the desks, books and computers to equip your creation. You require parents, when they sign their children up, to agree to work for the school without pay six hours a month.

To advertise, you march in the Kingsville Fourth of July parade and display a banner, "Back to the Classics," on your administrator's 1940 Dodge.

And fundamentally, according to the Rev. Ron Standiford, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and one of the school's charter parents and organizers, "you get over the feeling that's been drummed in you all your life, that the public schools can do it better."

Redeemer Classical will open the day after Labor Day in the 200-year-old farmhouse and adjacent carriage house of the Beachmont Farm, near Kingsville. Thirty-nine students from as far away as Randallstown have signed up for grades kindergarten through six. They'll get a "classical, Christ-centered education" emphasizing grammar, logic and rhetoric.

They'll begin Latin in the third grade, wear uniforms and attend chapel. Spelling and phonics will be emphasized in every grade, said Jacqueline J. Hutcheson, the administrator who doubles as the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher and triples as mother of three students.

Notwithstanding the emphasis on "the basics" taught by drill and practice, Redeemer Classical Christian School is planned more along the lines of the traditional American one-room school than the regimented British grammar school.

One teacher will take the kindergarten; the other three will teach two combined grades each, with no classroom having more than 16 students. There will be a part-time resource teacher for children with learning problems and a part-time secretary.

That's it for the paid staff. Parents have volunteered to teach physical education and other subjects regularly. The 40-acre farm and adjacent Christian camp provide plenty of room for play and experiment. Gunpowder Falls State Park is around the corner.

"We're not just taking traditional education and tacking on chapel and Bible reading," said Hutcheson, 39, who applied for the administrator's job after attending an information session in March. "The school will be inherently Christian as well as classical."

Redeemer's first "class" of parents is a roughly equal mixture of those frustrated with public schools, those transferring from other religious schools and those who have been teaching at home. Hutcheson, a Baltimore City resident and part-time researcher in pediatric medicine at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, has been teaching her three girls at home for three years.

To be closer to Redeemer, Chris and Sisi Wills are moving from 40 minutes away to a home in Harford County only 15 minutes away. They'll enroll all three children in the new school.

Sisi Wills said she was attracted by the classical program, a small but rapidly growing sector of the Christian school movement. It began in Moscow, Idaho, 15 years ago.

"I just love the idea of the school," said Sisi Wills. "I'm looking forward to the drive. It's so romantic over there."

The idea for a school at Redeemer Presbyterian (which holds services in the farmhouse) took root several years ago, but serious planning didn't start until 1994.

"We were fearful all along," said Standiford. "What if no one came? But God worked his miracles."

The organizers set 30 as the minimum enrollment for operation dTC and 60 as the maximum. Parents don't have to subscribe to the school philosophy -- that evolution is theory and creationism is fact, for example -- but they have to agree to strict rules of behavior for their children and to volunteer in behalf of Redeemer six hours a month.

No applicant has been turned down, said Standiford, 47, but his wife, Darby, 36, added quickly, "We are being careful not to be the last alternative for kids kicked out of the public schools."

The 60-member Redeemer Presbyterian, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, paid for building alterations, including the widening of windows and installation of fire sprinklers, to bring Redeemer up to code for a school. But as a "church-exempt" school, Redeemer is free of state regulation of its curriculum and teachers.

Redeemer's finances are straightforward. Tuition is $2,400 (additional children from the same family pay less), with a $250 registration fee Standiford said will be spent entirely on books and other curriculum materials. That leaves something in the $80,000 range for salaries and other expenses -- with three weeks to go before launching.

While the corn surrounding Redeemer Classical was still higher than any sixth-grader's eye last week, Standiford said he was "still getting over the shock of the realization that I can teach my two children and won't be marked for life, that there is curriculum to help me do that. With God's help, everything is falling into place."

Writer, subject become friends after profile

Renowned essayist John McPhee will never write about Bill Bradley, the professional basketball player turned U.S. senator.

Why? After he profiled Bradley, then a college basketball star, for his first published work in the New Yorker, McPhee and Bradley became friends.

"I'm the godfather of his daughter, and I know him too well to ever write about him again," McPhee told a conference on "creative nonfiction" last week at Goucher College.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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