Immaculate Conception in Towson celebrates being named blue ribbon school
By By Larry Perl
Oct 15, 2014 at 11:25 AM
Six months after they were sworn to secrecy, officials at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and its parish school gathered teachers, staff, parents and students at the church Sept. 30 for "an important announcement."
The Immaculate Conception School had been named by the U.S. Department of Education as a national blue-ribbon school, one of only 50 private schools nationwide to receive the prestigious award.
"I was really excited," said fifth-grader Annabelle Jackson, of Lutherville, who attended the special assembly. "They gave out whistles and clappers and we ran around the church."
Sixth-grader Patrick Verch, of Towson, said he quickly realized, "Our school stands out from the rest."
The parochial school, which teaches students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, will be honored at a ceremony in Washington in November. The school, at Joppa Road and Bosley Avenue, will receive a plaque and a special blue ribbon flag for its flagpole, and will be considered as a blue ribbon school for the next five years.
"People in education know what that means," said Principal Madeline Meaney.
Immaculate Conception has come a long way since it opened in 1887 with 15 students in a basement at York Road and Washington Avenue under the direction of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. In 1926, the Sisters of Saint Francis took over and two years later received funding for a three-story building on the current campus. In 1940, the school purchased land for athletic fields and in 1960, built more classrooms. In 2002, the school added a meeting room, kitchen and office space.
In 2010, a year after the Archdiocese of Baltimore closed Towson Catholic High School next door, Immaculate Conception began using that building's gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium, and transferred its middle school there. Gym teacher Kim Belmore, who came in 2009, can be found leading children in a spirited Christian athlete pledge.
There's a high-definition projector in the auditorium, funded by a $10,000 prize that the school won in a Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. video contest to promote caution around downed wires.
The school has 100 children in its extended-day program and offers after-school dance and drama classes. It has $2,200 electronic SMART boards in 40 of its 42 classrooms, plus a SMART cart.
The school has expanded its pre-school program, has lowered its class sizes and has increased enrollment to 576 students.
"That's our highest enrollment in 10 years," Meaney said.
The school also has tripled the size of its computer lab and has opened large music and art instruction rooms in place of its old mobile music and art carts. The robotics club, too, has its own room and sixth- grader Patrick is excited about a project to built a robot out of Legos.
The school's test scores are among the highest in the archdiocese in some subjects, including math and language arts.
A STEM (Science, Technology, Science and Mathematics) school since 2011, Immaculate Conception has since expanded that focus to include religion and the arts, and is now known as a STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Arts, Mathematics) school.
Kim Mercado, parent of a fifth-grader and president of Immaculate Conception's Home School Association, the equivalent of a PTA, is thrilled with the expansion into the old Towson Catholic High.
"It gave everybody a chance to spread out," she said.
And there is room to grow.
"I've got three empty (classrooms) that would make amazing science labs," Meaney said.
"People are realizing what a great value the school is," said the Rev. Joseph Barr, former longtime pastor of Holy Family Church in Davidsonville, who came to Immaculate Conception Church, a parish of more than 3,500 registered parishioners, in 2010. He has championed further expansion of the school, along with Meaney and the school's active community of parents and alumni.
"I think that's why we've been able to increase enrollment," Barr said, adding that the school has held fast to its religious roots.
"I think that helps solidify the Catholic identity," he said. "I'm the father of the building. I know all the kids by name and I call them by name."
The school's mission statement, stressing academic and spiritual growth, is prominently displayed above Meaney's office.
It's an article of faith at the school, and now, with a blue ribbon to back it up, Meaney thinks it will encourage families of fifth-graders to keep them there for middle school, rather than leave for other area schools, such as Maryvale Preparatory and Notre Dame Preparatory schools.
The school is already using the award as a marketing tool, sending out press releases and posting photos on Facebook of the announcement on Sept. 30. The school is also planning a week of special activities timed with the federal ceremony next month.
"We're going to have a lot of banners," said school spokeswoman Patricia Collins.
"I would imagine it would help," Meaney said, a day before last week's middle school open house.
Sixth-grader Patrick Verch doesn't need any convincing.
"I'm pretty convinced I'm going to stay," said Patrick, who has three siblings at Immaculate Conception, and whose father, Joe, heads the school finance committee. Patrick said only five boys left the school after fifth grade last year.
"When they come here, they want to stay here," said Mercado, of the school association.
And Collins said there's been an influx of new middle school students who didn't go to Immaculate Conception for elementary school.
Parents and graduates are doing their part to promote, improve and raise money for the school and its programs. Last summer, as an Eagle Scout project, graduate Nathan Hoffman, now a junior at Calvert Hall High School, and members of Boy Scout Troop 750, which is affiliated with the church, spent a weekend cleaning out the former Towson Catholic High library and found homes for all the books. The space is now a middle school homeroom.
Last week, Mercado was hard at work readying $25 coupon books for area restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses as a fundraiser for the school.
"We're trying to bring the parish, the school, the community, everything together," Mercado said. "That's Father Barr's vision."
Marjorie Parker, of Lutherville, has three children at the school. She's a graduate, too, and her mother started the kindergarten program.