Church school planned by Harvester Baptist Proposal responds to growing demand for religious education

July 27, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Harvester Baptist Church is moving ahead with plans to build a school on its Columbia property, continuing a trend toward increased parochial education in Howard County.

"It's not suggesting that Howard County [public] schools are bad," said the Rev. Ed E. Simpson, the church's pastor. He said the proposed school would go "beyond the issues taught in Howard County. Education is not simply learning the three R's. It's about learning to live."

Church officials will present a plan Aug. 12 to the county Planning Board to construct a school on their 12-acre property on Old Annapolis Road. The board will make a recommendation, and the Board of Appeals will make a final decision Oct. 15.

The school would eventually accommodate about 250 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to church plans.

In addition to traditional subjects, it would incorporate prayer and religion in the curriculum and discuss the Bible's interpretation of moral issues such as homosexuality, abstinence and abortion, Simpson said.

The idea "comes from the basic belief of who is responsible for educating your children," Nancy Shields, the church's religious education director, said.

"If you read the Bible, it's the parents," she said. "But you're not allowed to talk about [religious teachings] in Howard County schools."

Roger L. Salomon, executive director of Maryland's Association of Christian Schools, said parents who prefer church-based schooling are usually looking for a higher quality of education, a better learning environment or Bible-based learning materials.

"It's not enough to get an hour or two of Bible instruction on Sunday," Salomon said.

Shields said the church would like to start the school with kindergarten and add a grade each year. Church officials expect the kindergarten and first-grade classes to be the largest, primarily because tuition costs for parochial schools average about $2,600 a year. Many parents cannot afford that for 12 years and prefer to have their children in church-based school in the earlier grades.

"As a child moves up a grade, [parents] will move them out into [a public] middle school or high school," Simpson said.

The church is a two-story, 12,800-square-foot building. Simpson said the first phase of the plan would add a 4,000-square-foot, two-story day school by next year. The second phase -- which would be completed by 2004 -- would add a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building for classroom and auditorium space. The final phase would provide a 6,300-square-foot gymnasium by 2006. The plan also calls for 97 additional parking spaces. The church hopes to start classes by 2000.

Objections unlikely

Joseph Rutter, director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said very few objections arise to church-expansion proposals.

"If there is community concern, it is usually about the traffic," Rutter said. "The fact [the church] is in a business district certainly helps" avoid that problem.

Parochial schools in the county are in the midst of a growth spurt, adding capacity because of increased demand. For example, officials of St. Louis School in Clarksville, which was using trailers to accommodate 493 pupils, said this spring that they plan to build a $1 million addition.

Samantha Lucier, who lives at Fort Meade, said she would send her children to Harvester's school because she wants more influence over their education than she believes is possible at public schools.

For those in her area who now send their children to church-based schools, "it is a good drive," she said.

"I really wish I didn't have to pay at all for my kids to get a decent education," she said.

'Biggest struggle'

Local church officials say Harvester should have no problem finding students, but might have difficulty finding the type of students it wants.

Mark Jones, principal of Elkridge's Faith Bible Church Academy, said he has to turn down about 75 percent of applicants, usually because they don't meet the school's religious standards.

"I think the biggest struggle is to find kids and families who believe like us," he said.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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