Home-away-from-home School

The Education Beat

Academy: School That Was Started Last Year Uses Classical And Christian Elements In Teaching Small Classes In A Refurbished Baltimore County Farmhouse.

April 20, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

AT THIS POINT in its development, Redeemer Classical Christian School is a cross between a home school and a regular one.

The school's six kindergartners occupy the kitchen of a 200-year-old farmhouse near Kingsville in northeast Baltimore County. Teacher Jean Withers says she likes working in a kitchen: plenty of counter space, a sink and refrigerator close at hand.

Desks of the 13 first- and second-graders are arrayed before the library fireplace. Across the driveway in the refurbished carriage house, the four upper elementary grades are divided between two classrooms, with roughly 10 students in each. Redeemer Presbyterian Church's 60-member congregation worships on Sundays where the school holds chapel services for its 39 students on Wednesdays.

Ten-year-old Leah Standiford said she's not awfully self-conscious about having her mother and father as teachers. Afternoons, Darby Standiford teaches history, and the Rev. Ron Standiford teaches Latin to the older children. Leah's regular fifth-grade teacher, Jacqueline J. Hutcheson, doubles as Redeemer Classical's administrator.

"It's been the most professionally fulfilling year of my life," said Hutcheson, a developmental psychologist who had been home-schooling her three children before she was recruited last summer. She enrolled her kids in the school, where, she said, "I've found my niche."

When Education Beat visited Redeemer Classical in early August, the corn was eye-high, and the school was still in the planning stages. Standiford, Redeemer Presbyterian's pastor and Leah's father, was praying that a "Christ-centered education" wrapped in a classical format would attract enough students to rural Baltimore County to make a go of it.

Eight months later, Redeemer Classical appears to be on schedule. In fact, plans are afoot to add a seventh grade this fall -- portable classrooms will be needed -- to split at least two of the three combined grades and to expand to as many as 60 students.

"We seem to have struck a chord," said Standiford, "but we won't deviate from our maximum class size of 16."

Indeed, Redeemer Classical hasn't deviated from most of its plans of last summer. Parents are required to put in six hours a month in volunteer activities, thus saving all cleaning and maintenance costs. Students wear navy blue and white uniforms, and they are sworn to strict rules of behavior. Etiquette is taught here; Latin is spoken.

Like other Christian schools, Redeemer infuses biblical material across the curriculum. World history, which alternated semesters this year with American history, starts with the creation (and this semester advances only to 30 B.C.). "We combine the biblical with the secular," said Hutcheson.

Even mathematics has a Christian flavor. Most of the 10 kids in Evelyn Armstrong's combined third and fourth grade knew the answer to this one: Take the number of loaves and the number of fishes Jesus used to feed the 5,000; add the number of chapters in Philippians; subtract the number of people on Noah's ark and subtract the number of letters in the New Testament written to Timothy. (Answer: 1.)

The classical infusion is evident in the constant repetition, memory work and emphasis on facts. Reading instruction is heavy on phonics. English instruction uses the "Shurley Method," which teaches students how the eight parts of speech work together in a sentence. It used to be called "sentence diagramming" or "parsing." Redeemer students are taught what to ask and what to expect of every word in a sentence.

The reading list is replete with classics: "Anne of Green Gables," "Robinson Crusoe," "Swiss Family Robinson," "Old Yeller," "Little Men" and "Little Women." Before lunch one day last week, Hutcheson read her class a poem. Then there was a prayer of thanks for the morning's work. After lunch, a 10-minute "cool-down" accompanied by classical music.

There have been rocky moments in Redeemer's first year. One student dropped out, Standiford said, and some members of the congregation objected to the energy and money expended on a school, only five of whose students are Redeemer Presbyterian parishioners. "But most of the congregation is serious about the school and its mission. Most realize how important it is," the pastor said.

And what did Redeemer Classical's founders least expect in their maiden run?

"The discipline problems," Standiford said. "We've been taken aback by the time we've had to spend getting children to respect each other and their elders. It's something that's going on in society as a whole, so perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to find that some of these children brought their behavior problems here."

`Booker T' students get word of advice

Booker T. Washington Middle School in West Baltimore may have produced more African-American "firsts" than any other middle/junior high in Baltimore. (Thurgood Marshall, who went on to Douglass High and the Supreme Court, was far from the first "first.")

Many of the school's graduates returned this weekend for a salute to "Booker T" and a reactivation of the school's Hall of Fame. Among them was the Rev. Richard Adams, who graduated 50 years ago. "With a lot of rap and no map, you ain't going nowhere," Adams advised Booker T. students at a rousing assembly Friday.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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