With a greenhouse, a commercial kitchen and an auto body shop on campus, the Hannah More School brings learning pretty close to life.
The Reisterstown school for emotionally disturbed middle- and high school pupils has opened a five-career vocational program that stresses hands-on learning with strong ties to the real world. The school hopes the intensive training will lead to self-supporting jobs, not just go-nowhere fast-food stints, says Hannah More's head, Mark Waldman.
Vocational training is not unusual in schools for disabled students, but "there's nothing at the level of Hannah More," says Dorie Flynn, acting executive director of the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities. "Hannah More is unusual in that it's so sophisticated."
That is evident in class activities:
Culinary arts students cater meals for civic organizations, such as the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Chamber of Commerce, when it meets at the school.
Horticulture students take care of the school grounds, and will soon be starting work with annuals and perennials for spring planting.
Communications students produce a televised school news program.
"A lot of the kids struggle terribly with academics," says Waldman. "This is so much more rewarding for them."
Started early last year, the Decker Career Technology Education Program gives Hannah More's high school students the opportunity to focus on horticulture, automotive training, culinary arts, building trades or communications, including desktop publishing and television production.
Taught by people who have worked in the trades they teach, the curriculum includes work-study and mentoring programs and will offer internships, says the school's development director, Donna Clare. Each trade has a community advisory committee to keep the curriculum current with the workplace.
The program is designed for about 50 pupils, who make a two-year commitment. Thirty-five are enrolled this year. Altogether, Hannah More has about 140 pupils in grades six through 12. Pupils not enrolled in the technology program take a traditional curriculum, but can take vocational courses as electives.
The training is too new to track its lasting effects, but school officials are happy with what they see.
Michael Kerins, director of education, says the program's expectations have brought a "settled feeling" to the school, as students strive to qualify for the courses.
"Many of them are looking at the opportunity to take a course," he says, "and they know they won't be able to do that if they are not reliable," with good attendance and productivity.
Lynn Gilli of the Maryland State Department of Education is impressed with the community support, the school's commitment and the blending of vocational and academic classes.
"It does have kids' interests at heart. They are doing everything they can to open doors for these students," says Gilli, who oversees career and technology programs in the state's nonpublic schools.
Decker students must complete core academic courses to receive a high school diploma, but they also spend two class periods a day on their specialty. Academics often dovetail with vocational courses.
In math, students might measure lumber for a project or estimate the number of perennials in a flower bed.
Putting together a script for the school's television news program teaches the mechanics of reading and writing.
A helpful tool
"It has become a tool to get the kids more focused on what they need to do -- what they are going to have to be able to do when they get into a job," says Kerins.
Fifteen-year-old Kenneth Farinholt, whose specialty is automotive repair, has a clear focus -- two, in fact.
"I want to get a job at Jiffy Lube." And, the Anne Arundel County resident says, he wants to open a business. "I've been putting money away for a truck."
Lakeisha Dixon sees an immediate benefit to her culinary arts curriculum: "It helps me cook better at home," says the 12th-grader.
Referred by their schools, Hannah More's pupils come from around the metropolitan area. Some have been expelled from schools; others don't do well in a traditional educational setting. Some have emotional disabilities compounded by physical problems.
The pupils' home school systems pay the $40,000-plus tuition, a typical price tag for a nonpublic school with high teacher-pupil ratios and intensive therapy.
Most pupils stay about two years, with the goal of going back to their school or to another traditional school. Last spring, Hannah More graduated 14 students, 13 of them with regular Maryland diplomas and one with a completion certificate granted to students unable to achieve high school standards.
The increasing demand for vocational courses and the advice of graduates prompted the school to launch its first capital campaign, which led to the Decker program, named for Alonzo G. Decker Jr., chairman of the $4.3 million drive.
Now, the automotive classroom can accommodate several cars in various stages of repair. Across the hall, the building trades center is one-and-a-half stories high and filled with sophisticated power equipment.
"They have second-to-none kitchen facilities," says Lou Santoni, president of Santoni's Country Market in Glyndon and a member of the school's food service advisory committee.
Santoni, who is employing one student this year on a work-study basis, says the experience has been so positive, he will do it again.
Horticulture teacher Meghan Moran Madel sees another advantage to the Decker program, particularly in her classroom.
Working with plants and soil "can be very relaxing, and it's good to be nurturing something. You can tell that some enjoy the class for the therapeutic aspect of it," she says. "Just working with your hands for these kids is a different type of learning."
Pub Date: 2/08/99