Columnist introduces self, eyes 'perfect combination'


GOOD MORNING, neighbors! I'm your new east Columbia correspondent.

Natalie Harvey has left some big shoes to fill, but I'm confident I can make my mark without any disruption in the service you've come to expect.

The beat is still the same -- everything that's fit to print east of U.S. 29 within the borders of our fair town.

Our villages bubble over with interesting folk with great stories to tell. Our town is known as a place of active thinkers and diverse cultures.

I want to highlight the daily doings that bind us together.

School news, awards, Scouting honors, meetings, events, rallies, car washes, fund-raisers, congratulations for a job well done -- all are good currency here.

This is our column. We write it together, so I encourage you to keep sending along every bit of news you want to share with your neighbors.

I believe that the more we communicate, the stronger our community will be.

Benefits may be as simple as a smile in the aisle at the supermarket, or a friendly nod at a stoplight.

Later on, we may see results such as a good turnout for a neighborhood event or increased concern for the health and well-being of our villages.

My wife, Mary, and I and our daughters, Jacqueline, 8, and Christina, 7, live in Long Reach, and our children attend Phelps Luck Elementary School.

We've lived here for more than 10 years and cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Our neighbors are so neighborly, and the tree-lined streets so beautiful in spring and fall, who could want for anything else?

As our older villages mature and the ebb and flow of life brings changes, I hope to reflect this in my column.

The new, mingled with tradition, the sustaining character of a place in all its many parts, the changes we cannot legislate, the contrivances that work to meet a need -- all these are the glue that holds our communities together.

So, please be sure to give us a shout when you have something cooking.

A place for children

Linda Lagala-Spano of Oakland Mills Nursery School says, "Kids and play-dough. Can you imagine a more perfect combination?"

A parent at the Thunder Hill cooperative preschool program, Lagala-Spano gave away more than 150 heart-shaped edible pieces of the squishy stuff Saturday during the early-childhood and preschool information fair, "Children On Board," at the Columbia Hilton.

The dough was made by the school's parents, using flour as the main ingredient and colored with Kool-Aid.

Legala-Spano, who handles public relations for the school, and her colleagues staffed one of several booths they called "Co-op Alley" in a corner of the hotel ballroom.

Co-op nurseries are part of the history of Columbia and fit neatly into founder James W. Rouse's vision for Columbia.

Nursery schools give 2- , 3- and 4-year-olds a leg up on education through play.

Cooperative programs, unlike their traditional counterparts, have the added benefit of being run by the parents, who hire staff members and contribute time as directors, organizers, teachers' aides and field-trip chaperons.

Having parents to help keep things running allows teachers and aides to work more effectively with the children.

Classes typically run about 2 1/2 hours a day two or three days a week, giving busy parents time to attend to food shopping or other family needs.

Lagala-Spano's son, Nicholas, 3, will be joined by his younger sister, Jacklyn, at Oakland Mills Nursery School in September, when she turns 2.

Now, Lagala-Spano and her daughter enjoy time together while Nicholas has fun at school.

"It's the affordable way to go in Columbia," she said. "Co-ops must meet the same state requirements as traditional preschools."

Judith Todes, 40, an immigration attorney now in private practice, enrolled her sons, Michael and Joel, at Children and Company -- a co-op on Basket Ring Road in Oakland Mills.

"We found it to be a wonderful, warm and creative environment," Todes said. "Our children loved it.

"Activities were adapted to fit the strengths of the kids, and the quality of the teaching experience was incredible. The flexible scheduling helped me do my fair share without worry. There was plenty of time to help the school and get my practice up and running."

Tricia and Kevin Clarke moved to Columbia recently from New Jersey.

Both are Loyola College alumni; they liked the area and decided to come back.

The young couple were at the fair with their children, Liam, 2, and Kara, 10 months.

After talking to representatives and reading the brochures, Tricia Clarke, a teacher, was pleased to discover that she could be involved with her son's preschool experience without taking too much time away from her young daughter.

Because Liam has a sensitivity to peanut products, Clarke was relieved to hear that in a co-op program, she could have a voice in the selection of snacks for the children.

Tricia Clarke said she was learning that "the involvement of parents makes it more personal and less expensive."

"We are just getting into this, and it's a little hard thinking about September in January, but everyone books up so fast you have to," she said.

For information about east Columbia's cooperative nursery programs, call the schools: Oakland Mills Nursery School, 410-997-4024; Children and Company, 410-992-4644; Dasher Green Nursery School, 410-290-9166; Stevens Forest Cooperative Nursery School, 410-997-0808; and Children's Time Preschool, 410-997-4630.

Debbie Yare, program manager for Howard County's Child Care Resource Center in Ellicott City and organizer of the fair, said: "It is important for parents to make educated choices and this is an opportunity to learn about options."

The Children On Board fair included more than 50 preschools, learning centers and other county and commercial services for parents of young children.

The resource center is ready to help with more information.

Information: 410-313-1940.

Employees sing out

The Howard County Public School System Employee Chorus -- under the direction of Phelps Luck Elementary School music teacher Todd Hrico -- will give a free concert at 7: 30 p.m. Friday at Smith Theatre, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia.

The chorus was formed in fall 1994 and enjoys a growing reputation for high-quality performances.

Other participating staff members from Phelps Luck are Sabra Crosby and husband George, Amy Jo Dower, Nancy Koza, Mary Ann Levant and Jan MacDonald.

Former Phelps Luck staff members Joan Fox, Peggy Higgs and Janet Tilda also are participating.

The chorus roster includes active and retired teachers, custodial and administrative staff, and their spouses.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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