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Parents value church school education Howard institutions building additions as waiting lists grow



An article in Monday's editions on the popularity of parochial ++ schools in Howard County should have reported that tuition at Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City is $2,790 for children of parishioners.

Though they are in a county that boasts some of the most respected public schools in Maryland, Howard County's parochial schools are in the midst of a growth spurt as more parents look for an education that puts religion on equal footing with academics.

Take the Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City. The Roman Catholic institution is preparing to build a second-story addition to house its 350 students. The 17,500-square-foot expansion will allow school officials to move a computer lab and an assistant principal's office out of the lobby of the church, which is connected to the school.

"Everything is about space," says Sister Joan Elias, principal at Resurrection, which serves kindergarten through eighth-grade pupils. "We have a waiting list for every class. We couldn't put another child in here even if we wanted to."

The growth is evident at other schools, too.

St. Louis School in Clarksville, which is using trailers to accommodate 493 pupils, has drafted a plan to build a $1 million addition. Even with the expansion, one official says the Roman Catholic school will have a waiting list, which is currently at 95 and growing.

Waiting lists

"What happens is, we'll get a phone call [from an applicant], and we'll tell them, 'Don't even try it,' " says St. Louis Vice Principal Dorothy Parker. "Our waiting list is too full."

Crossroads Adventist School in Ellicott City has only 16 students, but will almost double to 30 next year. School officials are working on a proposal to build a five-room, 7,500-square-foot addition.

"Public schools have been muzzled," says Pastor Ben Boggess of Crossroads. "Teachers are limited in their ability to instill moral values in our young people."

Lisbon Bible Church in Mount Airy, which has 126 students, is seeking zoning approval to add three temporary classrooms for 24 more students next year.

The 400-pupil Trinity School in Ellicott City wants to install some portable trailers for an additional 100 children -- a precursor to a new athletic field, multipurpose cafeteria, and a 27,000-square-foot, two-story middle school building with a science lab and a media center.


The Howard County Council approved an amendment May 4 that allows private schools on 3 acres or more to teach up to 100 students per acre instead of the 60 pupils currently permitted. The request was made by Bethel Christian Academy in Savage, which has 37 more students than are legally permitted.

The flurry of activity illustrates the convergence of two trends that parochial school officials have been tracking for years: More families are moving into the county, and many of them are looking for a values-based education.

Though the 7,669 pupils in the county's 64 private and parochial schools represent only a fifth of the 40,000 in public schools, both grew about 4 percent last year.

And there is evidence that the growth would be faster in the private and parochial schools if there was more room.

New schools suggested

According to a committee organized by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, as many as 2,100 elementary school and 1,200 high school students in Howard and Carroll counties are seeking a Catholic education, but are unable to find a nearby school that can accommodate them.

In a 160-page report, released in April last year, the South Central Regional School Committee recommended that the archdiocese build two elementary schools -- one in southern Columbia and another in Sykesville -- and a high school on Route 32 near the Howard-Carroll county line.

"Our initial consultation found that that need for new schools is significant and profound, and research has verified that it's more than we expected," says Michael Balhoff, who chaired the eight-member committee. "Waiting lists do not connote how large the demand really is. Parents throw up their hands %J because it's impossible."

The demand is so great, according to Balhoff, that parents who want their children to go to Trinity start applying when the children are barely 1 year old.

Most schools give priority to families who have a child in the school, and many families are turned away without an interview. At St. Louis, that policy meant that there were only five open seats out of 50 in this fall's kindergarten classes.

Parents who choose parochial schools say the large classes, lax discipline and overworked teachers they associate with public schools are reasons for their decision.

Parochial education 'a gift'

Matthew Peroutka, whose three children attend Resurrection, says he and his wife wanted them to enjoy the same kind of education they received when they were Catholic school students.

"I really do think that the Catholic school education that my parents gave me was a gift," Peroutka says. "I feel that it's worth giving the same thing to my children."

Joyce Jung sent her older children to Howard County public schools. But when it was 5-year-old Rebecca's turn, Jung placed her at St. Louis, where Rebecca is a first-grader.

"I think the discipline here is better, and I think there's more involvement here between the parents and teachers," Jung says. "It's a bit more sheltered here, too."

Improved grades

Yolanda Flores says she decided to enroll her daughter Joanny at Crossroads in 1996 when the then-sixth-grader brought home a poor report card from a public school in Baltimore.

"She was getting D's -- a few C's, but mostly D's," Flores recalls of her daughter, who is now an eighth-grader earning A's and B's. "Her behavior was bad. When she had homework, I had to force her to do it."

En Shinn Wu says he was so disillusioned with his daughter Michelle's experience in a public school in Columbia that he didn't think twice about enrolling her at St. Louis even though the family is not Catholic.

"In our case, it didn't make any difference," says Wu. "All I cared about was finding a good school for her."

Practicing beliefs

The freedom to practice religious beliefs during the school day without consequence or timidity is the biggest draw, parochial school officials say.

"We can draw upon our Christian values and teach what we believe is right and wrong," says Monsignor Joseph Luca of St. Louis. "We do this as a part of our Christian responsibility not only to educate our children, but also to form them in the Christian mold."

Not everything about parochial schools is rosy, though. Tuition can be expensive, from $2,430 at Crossroads to $4,425 at Resurrection.

And the parochial schools lack the diversity of public schools. The 462 students profiled in September by St. Louis included eight African-Americans, three Latinos and two Asian-Americans.

Public school advantage

"That's one of our greatest advantages," says Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the county public school system. "It's a very positive thing for kids to grow up and learn to accept and celebrate the things that are different about us."

Despite the drawbacks, parochial school officials and parents of parochial school students say the schools are worth it because the children are learning more.

At Bethel, students are taught both creationism and evolution.

"We let them know about the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory [because] that's what's out there," says Principal Kathy Minter. "But we also teach that creation is the one we stand by and believe in."

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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