Highlands to be bigger, better

To meet demand, school to break ground on larger site and will offer life skills labs


In September 1996, the Highlands School opened in rented space on the second floor of an old school in Street, offering remedial education services for six children in grades four through eight.

Since then, the private school has operated at capacity, leaving little room for new pupils, said Executive Director Patricia Bonney.

"We work with students until they are ready to return to the traditional school environment, and that can take years," Bonney said. "Which means we have to turn more and more students away."

In response to the burgeoning demand for the program, school officials launched a capital campaign in 2004 with the goal of raising $9 million to build a 40,000-square-foot facility and athletic fields.

The next phase of the project begins Tuesday with the groundbreaking for the school on Creswell Road in Bel Air, scheduled to open for the 2007-2008 school year.

The school - which will be called the Highlands School at the James T. and Virginia M. Dresher Campus - serves children who exhibit difficulties in language processing, reading and spelling, short- and long-term memory, social skills and speech.

And although a new building wasn't part of the original long-term plan, it came to be inevitable, said Beth Maahs-Hoagberg, one of the school's founders.

"When we started the school, I wasn't thinking that someday we would expand and build a new school," said Maahs-Hoagberg, an education director at the school. "It just became something we realized we needed to do."

Continuing to turn away prospective pupils wasn't an option, said Vice President Wayne Tapscott.

"We have totally outgrown our current location," said Tapscott, an automobile dealer from Churchville. "We don't have the space to do anything more than we're doing."

Parents such as Janine Canfield, whose 11-year-old son Dane is a pupil at Highlands, agree. Although her son is thriving at Highlands , Canfield said the new facility is just what the program needs, given the age of the current building and gymnasium, the lack of a cafeteria and the limited space.

The four classrooms that the school uses are split with room dividers, so two grade levels can occupy the space. Each day, the pupils get into small groups in one classroom.

The new facility will include 22 small-group instruction rooms that will be occupied by groups of two or three children at a time.

There also will be 11 classrooms, one for each grade level - kindergarten through eighth grade - that can accommodate up to 12 children each, with a maximum capacity set at 125 pupils. This year's enrollment is 43.

"We're increasing the [number of] students that we can service, but we aren't increasing the class size," Maahs-Hoagberg said. "If we go over 12 students at a grade level, we will use one of the open classes and split the group in half."

Along with more pupils comes the need to increase the staff, which will more than double from 37 to 78, Bonney said.

While some schools are having difficulty hiring enough teachers for remedial programs, Bonney said Highlands draws from a different pool.

"We train people from all walks of life using our own methodology," said Bonney. "So it doesn't matter if they have teaching, special education or even business backgrounds."

The plan for the new school includes space for media, art and music instruction; occupational and physical therapy; admission and testing; counseling and speech pathology; a gymnasium; and a performing arts stage.

Pupils will have access to four "life skills labs" including a bank, school store, shop class and a studio. The children will learn to save money, invest, shop, garden, sew and perform on a stage, Bonney said.

The school also will house a community outreach center for literacy that will be open to the public and will include a tutoring center and professional development opportunities for teachers.

One parent said she hopes the cost of tuition, which rose from $19,700 last year to $21,700 this year, doesn't keep people from attending.

"Highlands is a great school," said Bobi Jean Snyder, a Whiteford resident. "But I had to take out a loan to pay the tuition for my kids to attend. I hope it isn't just the ones that can afford it that are able to benefit from the program."

Snyder said her children - Josie Jane, 10, who attended Highlands in third and fourth grade, and her son, Jesse James, 8, who will be in third grade this year - received instruction that would be hard to put a price tag on.

"My daughter is going back to public school for fifth grade this year, and the man who evaluated her couldn't believe she was the same child that left public schools two years earlier," Snyder said.

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.