As the halls at St. Ursula's School bustled with visiting parents at the annual open house on Nov. 11, art teacher Shani Silvis ticked off some of her family connections to the school.
There's herself, of course, Class of 1985.
Her mother, Rosanne Hewing, was Class of 1960. Silvis said her mom subsequently went for a while to Mercy High School, but transferred to Parkville High.
"She wanted to go to a school with boys," she said.
Her uncle, Dennis Cartwright, was a St. Ursulan, as were her step-brother and step-sister, J.R. Van Horn and Jessica Van Horn Smith. Finally, Silvis' children, Izzy, who graduates this year, and Skylar, who is in fourth grade, complete the list.
And her ties go beyond that. "My second grade best friend is still my best friend," she said.
None of this is a surprise to Deborah Glienowiecki, a Parkville native who has been principal of St. Ursula's for four months. Now retired from Baltimore County Public Schools, where her last posting was as principal of Jacksonville Elementary School, she is a product of Baltimore County parochial schools (Immaculate Heart of Mary and Towson Catholic Class of 1971) and has long been aware of the family ties and reach of St. Ursula's School, which draws students from as far as Harford County.
"It has quite a positive reputation," she said.
St. Ursula's School turned 75 this year. Celebratory events included a gala in September that drew close to 300, including priests, nuns, teachers, staff, parents and kids.
The school's history in Parkville parallel's the growth of the Baltimore Archdiocese in Baltimore County. The intersection of Harford Road and Putty Hill Avenue already had Hiss United Methodist and St. John Lutheran churches when, in the 1920's, officials at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in Hamilton, which was crowded each Sunday with trolley-riding Parkville Catholics, foresaw the need for a suburban chuch and began buying land for St. Ursula's and raising funds to build.
People might think St. Ursula's Church, on the east side of Harford Road, came first, followed by the school building on the west side. It was, in fact, the opposite. St. Ursula's Mission was dedicated on the site of what is now the school in 1933. In 1940, a story was added to the building and a school was opened with instruction for 145 children by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The church across the street came in 1954.
Growth has been constant. The modern wing that sits behind the school building facing Harford Road, which more than doubled the size of the school, was completed in 1968. The kindergarten-to-8th-grade school now enrolls about 620 pupils.
Principal Glienowiecki said her new career at St. Ursula's marks a "full circle of life" for her in Catholic education.
"Retirement was looming and I was looking for another opportunity. God was on my shoulder. It was time for a change," she said.
The principal said she has brought no agenda with her except to beef up classroom technology and continue implementing the archdiocese's new curriculum for English Language Arts.
St. Ursula's, one of the largest schools in the archdiocese, has a two-tiered annual tuition rate schedule for non-parishioners and parishioners. Non-parishioners pay $5,775 for one child and $5,300 for each additional child. Parishioners start with $4,750 for one child and additional children are steeply discounted. The school has a dress code and students wear uniforms in a gray plaid theme. Extended-day care is available.
Silvis, the art teacher, said comparisons of St. Ursula's with a family are common and deserved.
"If anything happens, you are supported. Before you even ask, they are there," she said. "Plus, you have amazing parent involvement, which makes our job easier."
She estimated 10 of the teachers have children attending and noted that most who graduate as 8th graders go on to Catholic high schools.
Chris Lorber, a 5th grade science teacher and graduate of the school, has 35 years teaching at St. Ursula's (including six years on hiatus). She said her brother and sons also attended as students.
"It's just a great place," she said. "When you talk about something that's Parkville, that's this place."
Dominic Anderson, 11, a fifth grader, recalled being less than thrilled when his parents enrolled him in kindergarten at St. Ursula's.
"At first I was scared," said the boy, whose family lives in Rosedale.
But, he said, in 2nd grade his teacher hugged him and his nervousness went away.
He likes doing experiments in science class and is currently learning about cells. "I like to learn and this is a pretty nice place to come to," he said.
Also, at the encouragement of a priest, he said, he began as an altar server this year. He said he likes the rituals of the mass such as ringing the bells.
"I like to go there. We learn all about God, our Father almighty," he said.