A primer to help parents pick a private school

Choices: `Nonpublic' schools in Howard County offer traditional curricula, religious instruction and programs for students with learning difficulties.

March 23, 2003|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Howard County is known for its fine public school system.

But for those parents who feel private school is the best option, many choices are available within the county lines.

Although the words private school often conjure the image of the rich and elite, the families of those who attend say that is a stereotype.

The dozens of nonpublic schools, as they are called by the State Department of Education, are as varied as the students who attend.

The county is home to schools steeped in tradition, newer schools with fresh ideas, schools affiliated with religious organizations and schools for children with learning differences.

"Private schools are not in competition with public schools," said Ron Goldblatt, executive director of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.

"They are not serving nearly the numbers the public schools are serving. An independent school does not have to be all things for all people."

While nonpublic schools must adhere to state guidelines, each independent school defines its mission.

It is not possible to list the merits of every school, so the following is a sampling of what private schools have to offer in Howard County.

Glenelg Country School, set on 87 acres in the hills of Glenelg in western Howard, is awaiting its golden anniversary. It began in the historic Glenelg Manor house with 35 students in 1954.

It now serves nearly 720 students from pre-kindergarten through high school, with hundreds on a waiting list.

Each school level is contained in one building, with a separate principal and staff for lower, primary, middle and upper schools.

The average class size is 16 students.

The school is looking forward to a $13 million expansion that is planned to open in time for the school year beginning in fall 2004, according to headmaster Ryland Chapman III.

"What's nice about Glenelg is that it's a small, tight-knit community," said Clarksville parent Darlene Mikolasko, whose two children attend third and sixth grade. "The headmaster knows everyone by name. And the curriculum is tough. They really stress how to find sources, write papers and orally defend them. There are poetry contests where the children recite poems in front of parents and judges.

"These children become well-rounded," she added. "It's wonderful because these are things that they need to do in college and beyond when they are working in careers."

The longevity also makes Glenelg attractive, Mikolasko said.

"It's got a proven track record," she said. "It has stood the test of time."

Another school that has stood the test of time is Trinity School in Ellicott City.

Trinity has grown from a high school for girls in the 1930s to its current 390 pupils from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Its five buildings sit on wooded land. The school boasts modern science and art labs with in-depth learning.

The curriculum offers a college preparatory program combined with religious values, said Principal Frangiska Lewis.

In this school, where parents stay as volunteers long after their children graduate, the average class size is about 20 pupils.

"We know each family, not just the child," Lewis said. "Because of our small size, the children receive individual attention. Throughout the school day, the ideas of virtues are intertwined with the studies."

The school's Christian values attract some parents.

"I think it's great that we can pray in school," said Columbia parent Patti Neuman whose daughter Jessica is an eighth-grader at the school. "I feel you can never pray too much."

Neuman also likes the school's academic policies.

"They really take the extra effort to assist a child who needs help," she said.

Music teacher Emily Wilkinson is a Trinity graduate who has returned as a teacher.

"I always had a close relationship with the teachers," Wilkinson said. "Because of my start at Trinity, I have always been comfortable approaching teachers and asking for help. Being on the other side now as a teacher, I love that the students are so nice and always excited and happy to see me and learn in class. It's a very nurturing environment."

The Young School was founded in 1988 as a preschool program.

It has slowly grown to a preschool through seventh-grade program, with plans to include eighth grade in the fall. Locations are in Columbia and Gambrills.

The school describes its vision as fostering personal excellence by providing a learning environment in which children discover and develop their gifts and abilities.

The elementary school is home to 220 pupils.

"We don't stop at teaching content," said Principal Melanie Pontell. "With our project-based curriculum, we teach how to learn. We have children delve deeper into a topic. The work is hands on. For instance, in first grade the kids were learning about simple machines. They didn't simply study a textbook and regurgitate the facts. They made simple machines and presented them to the class. They are immersed in projects. When playing hockey in P.E. class, they also learn the history of hockey."

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