St. John's expanding school

Education: The historic Ellicott City parish is adding a grade a year - from first through fifth - to its preschool and kindergarten.

April 26, 2002|By Rona S. Hirsch | Rona S. Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Marguerite Madden enters the new first grade at St. John's Parish Day School in the fall, the 6-year-old will begin her fifth year at the Ellicott City institution. With its small classes, broad curriculum and morning chapel, the expanded day school is a draw for parents such as Marguerite's mother, Julia Madden.

"Children love it," said Madden, who lives in Clarksville with her husband, former state Sen. Martin G. Madden. "It's got a lot of tradition. The program is really varied, and chapel rounds out the child. I think the community needs it."

To extend its ministries, St. John's Episcopal Church embarked on an expansion and renovation project in December, while aiming to preserve the architectural integrity of the historic, 14-acre campus. The project's centerpiece is the expanded day school that will add a grade each year, from first through fifth, to the preschool and kindergarten.

"What we're doing is providing room for the next generation and for the community," said the Rev. William Shiflet, rector for 15 years.

Founded in 1822, St. John's was built in 1861 on land donated by Caleb and Elizabeth Dorsey. Designed by Nathan Starkweather, a leading 19th-century ecclesiastical architect, the original structure includes a wooden, arched belfry with a stone base and an 83-foot-tall stone spire that is a local landmark. According to a church brochure, St. John's is one of 12 churches nationwide with a solid stone spire. The church was last restored in 1992.

With a membership of 875 families, St. John's is the largest of the 100 parishes in the Episcopalian Diocese of Maryland, including 10 in Howard County. Church facilities also are used for community functions that include Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Scouting, youth groups and musical and theatrical events.

"The church family represents a cross section of the community," said Thomas Brandt, a project volunteer and parishioner since 1957 who attends with his wife, Nancy, and parents, Jean and Marshall Brandt. "We wanted to expand the ministries, which include Sunday school, folk services and other community activities. There will be a lot more flexibility to have more groups at the same time and larger groups. We think that's the right thing to do with the very beautiful facilities that are our legacy. I have no doubt it will be a blessing to more people."

The $7.8 million project will be completed in September and includes about $5.5 million for new construction and $1.3 million for renovations. Most of the funding comes from a loan that will be paid within 15 years, Shiflet said. St. John's also launched a $1.5 million capital campaign through pledges, corporate matching contributions and grants from local foundations. So far, $1.4 million has been pledged.

According to designs by Baltimore architects Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet, construction includes a new education wing for the expanded day school and burgeoning Sunday school; a new multipurpose room to provide kitchen facilities and seating for 400 for parish events; and a new commons area, connecting the multipurpose building with the renovated parish hall.

Renovations to the education building and 51-year-old parish house include modernized bathrooms, climate-control systems, new lighting and enhanced nursery facilities. The rectory will be converted into office and meeting space. Parking is being added.

The day school, which has a maximum of 20 pupils per class, offers state-based education with a spiritual base. Tuition is $6,500 for full-day kindergarten and $8,900 for grades one through five. About 20 percent of the 232 pupils are members of St. John's families, Brandt said.

"People are looking for a setting that will help the children think about moral and ethical issues from a spiritual perspective," Shiflet said. "We believe the formative base is the elementary school years."

The head of school, Anna Puma, a former principal of grades three through six at the private Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, said her administration is evaluating its programs. "The church is trying to deal with things that people just talk about," Puma said. "They want something that offers a nurturing environment, where children will be excited about learning and grow up to be kind and caring people."

Just ask Marguerite. "I like the school," she said. "The teachers are nice."

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