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Parents showing interest in new Monarch Academy

Laurel-area parents have a little more than two weeks left to apply if they want their children to be among the first students at the Monarch Global Academy Public Contract School opening next year.

Parents from Monarch's catchment area of Maryland City, Brock Bridge and Jessup elementary schools in Anne Arundel County have until Dec. 20 to apply for the new contract school, currently being built on 8.5 acres of land on Brock Bridge Road.

Gladys Graham, chief operating officer overseeing charter schools for the Children's Guild, said if the school has more than 475 applications by that date, a lottery will determine who gets into the school. If fewer than 475 students apply for the first year, the application will open up to Anne Arundel County families outside the catchment area. Eventually, the school will serve more than 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Graham said, and if a lottery is needed, it will occur in January with admissions notifications made in February.

About a dozen parents were on hand for an information session about the new school Nov. 26 at Resurrection of Our Lord Catholic Church on Brock Bridge Road — barely two miles from the school site, Graham said. At the sessions, Graham and Guild staff fielded questions from parents that ran the gamut, addressing school uniforms, bussing and academic programs.

When it opens in August 2014, Monarch will be an International Baccalaureate school. In short, Graham said, the IB program offers a global perspective to learning.

"IB is a rigorous, intellectual program at all levels," Graham told parents. "It's a program that really challenges children to problem-solve in a really deep way. It's problem-based learning. Students have to identify what the problem is in the context of the content they're being given. It's the teacher's job to facilitate learning for the kids, but it's the kids role to navigate the information they have."

Parents came to the meeting because they were curious about the school, like Diane Watkins.

"I'm applying because at this point, you have nothing to lose by doing so," said the mother of two Brock Bridge third-graders. "I like that there's a global background, that there's a focus on problem-based learning. I'm excited about that, that they'll be able to rely on themselves and not be limited in their learning. They can step outside the box."

Watkins said she started looking for other academic options for her children when one of her sons came to her and said he wasn't being challenged at school.

"For a child to want something different, that says a lot," she said. "Usually at that age they're tied to their friends and to what's familiar, but they're frustrated. That says a lot, that the challenge of learning is important to them. That's what I'm looking for."

After a ground-breaking in November, construction is ongoing on the $16.5 million school.

Work was delayed because of difficulties between the nonprofit Children's Guild Institute, which runs several Monarch locations, and developer Polm Cos. The Laurel Monarch Academy was supposed to open its doors to students this year, but the developer, Polm Cos., was having difficulty securing money and permits for the school. The property was sold to the Children's Guild in September, and the guild is moving forward in building the school on its own.

The school is being built to accommodate students in the overcrowded western portion of Anne Arundel County, and the opening "couldn't come at a better time," Graham said.

"The district is moving forward with implementing the Common Core State Standards [as is Monarch]; and this is going to allow teachers in those three schools to lessen the numbers in the classrooms, and they'll be able to engage in these new practices with a reasonable number of kids in their classrooms," Graham said.

Graham said Monarch is currently recruiting teachers and interviewing principal candidates, and she hopes a principal will by hired by the end of December.

But it's more than a staff and building that makes a school, she said: It's a community. The Maryland City, Jessup and Brock Bridge communities have so far been enthusiastic and supportive of the new school, Graham said.

"We need every heartbeat — every soul — to make this work," she told parents. "That's exciting, but it's also hard. Our success is your success. This is a partnership."

For more information about the Monarch Global Academy Public Contract School, go to monarchcharter.org/monarch-global.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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