Shifting priorities

High schools: Emphasizing discipline and academics, Carroll County's Bowling Brook has turned around the lives of troubled juveniles while managing to put together some strong athletic teams.

April 11, 2000|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The evidence is tacked to a bulletin board in a conference room at Bowling Brook Prep. On the left side of the board is the word "academics," and another word "athletics" holds court on the right side.

Sometimes at odds with each other, "academics" and "athletics" find common ground at Bowling Brook, a private, non-profit school for boys between 16 and 19 years of age who are serving time in the juvenile justice system.

At Bowling Brook, located in Keymar in western Carroll County, playing sports is nearly as significant as hitting the books.

Last year, more than half of the 65 students enrolled at Bowling Brook earned their Maryland high school diploma, and a handful continued their education at community colleges and universities. Many of the students volunteer at local nursing homes and assist the Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company with dinners and its annual carnival.

The school has found similar success on the field and in the gymnasium. The football team finished its inaugural season with a 5-1 record, two wrestlers placed third at the Maryland Independent Schools Wrestling Tournament in February and the weightlifting team has won three consecutive county championships.

Without the athletic program, Bowling Brook "would be like any other boot camp," said senior Vince Ferguson, a forward on the basketball team and a member of the weightlifting squad. "There would probably be some enjoyable parts, but not what it's like now."

Many of the Bowling Brook students have been expelled from public schools, and nearly all have been charged with some type of crime. "We're trying to provide a quality institution for someone with one foot in the adult correctional system," said Michael Sunday, the school's executive director.

Tucked away in rolling farmland, the school began with the death of Raymond I. Richardson.

Richardson was a successful hotel manager who grew wealthy through investments. When he died in 1954, his will instructed that most of his estate go to establishing a facility for the care and education of troubled boys.

A cousin of Richardson, E. Miller Richardson, purchased the 264-acre Bowling Brook Farm from George Walden in 1957. There, Richardson founded the school that his late cousin had envisioned.

The institution began quietly, housing a handful of boys in 1976. Today, Bowling Brook houses 65 boys with a plan to increase the student population to 89.

The students come from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia, referred to the school by their respective juvenile court systems. Sunday, who has been working with the school since 1976, said many of the boys come from single-parent households and have been living on the streets, getting involved in illegal-drug operations or running with gangs.

"From an empathic point of view, if you project yourself into the shoes of the kids, you could see yourself being involved in the same things they were involved in," Sunday said. "Because they have been out of school and on the streets, they have a tremendous amount of untapped potential."

Inundated with referrals for more students than they can enroll, school officials interview every prospective student to see if he is receptive to learning and prepared to deal with peer pressure.

Major adjustment

Bowling Brook has several unwritten requirements: students must welcome guests who visit the school, students are expected to pick up trash, and students are responsible for observing -- and, if necessary, correcting -- each other's behavior.

The rules were shocking to a few.

"When I first came here, I didn't like it at all," said senior Mike Price of Pittsburgh. "I wanted to call my P.O. [probation officer] and get out of here."

Said senior Tristan Scott, also from Pittsburgh: "That was a surprise to me because where I was coming from, as far as somebody telling you to tuck in your shirt, it wouldn't be like that."

Once the social rules are established, the focus shifts to academics. The results have been positive: Sunday estimates that 70 percent of the students who have enrolled at Bowling Brook have graduated with a high school diploma.

Half of those graduates have been accepted to colleges and universities, Sunday says, and as many as 15 Bowling Brook students per semester can be found taking courses at Carroll Community College.

Sunday believes the key is introducing the students to a consistent environment.

"We have to make it a safe place," he said. "When people feel safe, they can relax. When they can relax, they can focus on learning."

Darrien Cook, a senior and a member of the student council who hails from Baltimore, recalled his time at Walbrook High.

"Behavior tolerated there is not tolerated here," he said. "It's priorities first here. You do your work, then you can talk to your friends."

Sports as outlet

Sports is another priority. More students try out than there are positions on some of the teams.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.