Parents value church school education Howard institutions building additions as waiting lists grow

May 11, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

CLARIFICATION

An article in Monday's editions on the popularity of parochial ++ schools in Howard County should have reported that tuition at Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City is $2,790 for children of parishioners.

Though they are in a county that boasts some of the most respected public schools in Maryland, Howard County's parochial schools are in the midst of a growth spurt as more parents look for an education that puts religion on equal footing with academics.

Take the Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City. The Roman Catholic institution is preparing to build a second-story addition to house its 350 students. The 17,500-square-foot expansion will allow school officials to move a computer lab and an assistant principal's office out of the lobby of the church, which is connected to the school.

"Everything is about space," says Sister Joan Elias, principal at Resurrection, which serves kindergarten through eighth-grade pupils. "We have a waiting list for every class. We couldn't put another child in here even if we wanted to."

The growth is evident at other schools, too.

St. Louis School in Clarksville, which is using trailers to accommodate 493 pupils, has drafted a plan to build a $1 million addition. Even with the expansion, one official says the Roman Catholic school will have a waiting list, which is currently at 95 and growing.

Waiting lists

"What happens is, we'll get a phone call [from an applicant], and we'll tell them, 'Don't even try it,' " says St. Louis Vice Principal Dorothy Parker. "Our waiting list is too full."

Crossroads Adventist School in Ellicott City has only 16 students, but will almost double to 30 next year. School officials are working on a proposal to build a five-room, 7,500-square-foot addition.

"Public schools have been muzzled," says Pastor Ben Boggess of Crossroads. "Teachers are limited in their ability to instill moral values in our young people."

Lisbon Bible Church in Mount Airy, which has 126 students, is seeking zoning approval to add three temporary classrooms for 24 more students next year.

The 400-pupil Trinity School in Ellicott City wants to install some portable trailers for an additional 100 children -- a precursor to a new athletic field, multipurpose cafeteria, and a 27,000-square-foot, two-story middle school building with a science lab and a media center.

Values-based

The Howard County Council approved an amendment May 4 that allows private schools on 3 acres or more to teach up to 100 students per acre instead of the 60 pupils currently permitted. The request was made by Bethel Christian Academy in Savage, which has 37 more students than are legally permitted.

The flurry of activity illustrates the convergence of two trends that parochial school officials have been tracking for years: More families are moving into the county, and many of them are looking for a values-based education.

Though the 7,669 pupils in the county's 64 private and parochial schools represent only a fifth of the 40,000 in public schools, both grew about 4 percent last year.

And there is evidence that the growth would be faster in the private and parochial schools if there was more room.

New schools suggested

According to a committee organized by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, as many as 2,100 elementary school and 1,200 high school students in Howard and Carroll counties are seeking a Catholic education, but are unable to find a nearby school that can accommodate them.

In a 160-page report, released in April last year, the South Central Regional School Committee recommended that the archdiocese build two elementary schools -- one in southern Columbia and another in Sykesville -- and a high school on Route 32 near the Howard-Carroll county line.

"Our initial consultation found that that need for new schools is significant and profound, and research has verified that it's more than we expected," says Michael Balhoff, who chaired the eight-member committee. "Waiting lists do not connote how large the demand really is. Parents throw up their hands %J because it's impossible."

The demand is so great, according to Balhoff, that parents who want their children to go to Trinity start applying when the children are barely 1 year old.

Most schools give priority to families who have a child in the school, and many families are turned away without an interview. At St. Louis, that policy meant that there were only five open seats out of 50 in this fall's kindergarten classes.

Parents who choose parochial schools say the large classes, lax discipline and overworked teachers they associate with public schools are reasons for their decision.

Parochial education 'a gift'

Matthew Peroutka, whose three children attend Resurrection, says he and his wife wanted them to enjoy the same kind of education they received when they were Catholic school students.

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