Calvert School is planning to expand

Private school decides to add two middle grades

February 21, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

The Calvert School, one of Baltimore's oldest and most prestigious private schools, intends to extend its cherished traditions and curriculum a little longer.

After decades of resisting the temptation to add students and classes, the small school in North Baltimore announced big plans last week to expand to the seventh and eighth grades.

"We think it will make us a stronger school overall," said headmaster Merrill S. Hall III. "The demand for middle school students is ever expanding. The crunch in independent middle schools is so great, we need to give our own students, and other city and county students, another alternative."

Establishing middle grades will be a significant departure -- and costly undertaking -- for the 103-year-old school, which has held firm to its beginnings and the basic, tightly prescribed curriculum for which it is known.

Calvert's 380 pupils attend pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade classes in a schoolhouse on Tuscany Road.

The school will have to find more land and raise a large sum of money to build classrooms for 70 seventh- and eighth-graders. The sixth grade will also become part of the middle school.

In a letter sent Wednesday to parents and alumni, Hall noted that "a number of scenarios are being evaluated, including a preliminary plan that would have a new middle school be part of an enlarged campus at our current location." He asked all to take part in planning the construction, curriculum development, admissions and marketing of the middle school -- with the goal of opening the first seventh-grade classes in fall 2002.

One of the chief motivations for Calvert's planned expansion has been the increasing competition for limited spaces in private middle and high schools, Hall said. Calvert pupils, upon graduating from sixth grade, sometimes have a tough time getting into the school of their choice because of the large number of applications, he said.

"We've heard that story more and more in the last five years," said Mary Kiely, a Calvert parent whose daughter, Amanda, attended another middle school before getting into her first choice, Bryn Mawr, where she is now in the 10th grade.

Kiely said her younger daughter, Andrea, is excited about the prospect of attending Calvert's seventh grade if the middle school opens as planned.

"She thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to be part of a start-up," Kiely said. "I trust the integrity of the institution so much that I don't feel it would be a pilot program. Our reaction has been of great excitement."

Calvert is certain to continue its distinctly old-fashioned curriculum in the middle school. It can pick up on the seventh- and eighth-grade curriculum that is part of its famed home-study courses. More than 15,000 students worldwide receive Calvert's "school-in-a-box," which includes everything from texts to pencils for home schooling.

The school has always eschewed educational fads for a program that emphasizes writing and penmanship through repeated exercises. Reading assignments blend phonics with children's classics. History is taught with a text that has been revised but was first published more than seven decades ago.

Although Calvert is a coeducational school, girls and boys have separate homerooms; they are together for some classes. Tuition ranges from $10,600 for kindergarten to $12,000 for sixth grade; half-day preschool classes cost less.

Calvert has also expanded the use of its curriculum in Baltimore, bringing it to three inncer-city elementaries: Barclay School, Carter G. Woodson School and New Song Academy.

The school has long been cautious about change. But it has also tried to live up to the words of Virgil M. Hillyer, its first headmaster, who once said that education should "introduce the new constantly, or the old with a new setting."

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