Private schools remain a popular option

March 21, 2004|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For Terence McAuliffe, private school offered certain "intangibles" - a dress code, a courteous environment, good manners, "middle school kids helping lower school kids with their umbrellas."

McAuliffe and his wife have five children in fourth through 10th grade at Glenelg Country School. "I couldn't be more happy with Glenelg," he said.

He is among many Howard County parents who have chosen private school despite having access to the state's top-ranked public school system. The county is home to more than 30 nonpublic schools offering various grades from kindergarten onward.

Reasons are varied

Parents' reasons for choosing private education are as varied as the types of private schools.

Some parents chose private school because of doubts about a particular public school. However, most, like McAuliffe, say they want something they cannot get in the typical large, public school: instruction in moral values or religion, full-day kindergarten, smaller classes, a greater emphasis on the arts, or more individual instruction for children who are gifted or have different learning styles.

"I always considered my first choice was to send my children to Catholic school," said Matt Kolb of Columbia.

He and his wife, Mary, have a kindergartner and second-grader at St. Louis School, on the grounds of St. Louis Church in Clarksville.

"We feel the academics are equal to what we would find in the Howard County school system," he said, "but beyond that is the fact that spiritual life is emphasized here and worship is part of the curriculum. Our whole family life is built around the parish."

Unlike public schools, which admit everyone who lives within their district borders, private schools have admissions procedures that may include an application, entrance exam, an interview with the student or parents, and submission of transcripts and teacher recommendations.

Prices vary by school and grade, with financial aid offered at some schools. An informal survey of selected schools found tuition ranging from $4,500 to almost $17,000 for the academic year.

Kolb said that, for his family, financing a parochial school education at St. Louis is a priority.

"We sacrifice a great deal financially because we are paying to send our children here," he said. "We feel that that comes first."

80-year-old school

The 80-year-old St. Louis is one of a half-dozen Roman Catholic schools in the county. On Route 108 west of River Hill, it has about 515 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Parents choose St. Louis because religion is woven throughout the curriculum, said Principal Terry Weiss.

"We talk about our religion in math class, in history and in science class," she said. "I think that's what parents want. They want their children to be free to express their faith and ask questions about their faith at any time throughout the day."

Prayer is also a big part of the school day. "We pray every morning over the P.A. together as a community," she said. "We pray every afternoon as a community."

The county has many nonreligious private schools, some with long histories.

Glenelg Country School was founded in 1954 in a manor-type house, part of which dates to the 1700s. The coeducational, college-preparatory school is on 87 acres in a rural section of the county, outside Ellicott City.

Enrollment of 750

The school has about 750 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Average class sizes range from 14 to 17, depending on grade. As a result, teachers can give students more attention, said Headmaster Ryland Chapman III.

"If you are a good teacher and have a class of 12 to 15, you can do a better job than if you're a good teacher and have a class of 25 to 30," he said.

Almost 100 percent of the graduating students go to college, with 85 percent gaining acceptance to their first-choice school, he said.

Among county public school students, 87 percent of the Class of 2003 enrolled in two- or four-year colleges.

Hard work stressed

Chapman said that Glenelg stresses "courtesy, respect, civility, hard work, effort at your academics and community service" - the "intangibles" cited by McAuliffe.

For parents who prefer the educational philosophy developed by Maria Montessori a century ago, there are several programs in the county.

The Julia Brown Montessori Schools operate at locations in Columbia and Laurel, with a combined total of 250 children in preschool through third grade.

"Montessori is based on the philosophy of children being able to be independent and to solve problems. It is not everyone sitting at a desk doing the same thing at the same time," explained Theresa Leonhart, assistant director for Julia Brown schools.

Traditional Montessori schools, they have children of different ages learning in the same classroom. Primary classes are made up of children ages 2 1/2 to 5 1/2 , while first-, second- and third-graders make up their own classes.

`At their own pace'

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