Catholic school opens in temporary home


Wearing a purple plastic raincoat and matching hat, 4-year-old Katherine Valerien hurried her mother and little sister across the church parking lot yesterday morning at Our Lady of the Fields Church in Millersville.

"This way Mama," urged Katherine.

It was only 7:50 a.m., but school would start in 25 minutes, and Katherine didn't want to be late for her first day of kindergarten at School of the Incarnation.

The new Roman Catholic school opened yesterday with its first 50 children, divided between two kindergarten classes in temporary quarters at Our Lady of the Fields parish center. This will be home until the school moves to a building to be constructed on a 23-acre site about 2 1/2 miles away on Waugh Chapel Road and scheduled to open in the fall of 2002.

The existence of School of the Incarnation reflects a demand for more parochial education throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It's the first Roman Catholic school to be built in Anne Arundel County in 35 years and the second this week to open in the archdiocese. Our Lady of Grace School opened Monday in northern Baltimore County.

Yesterday, as the first pupils at School of the Incarnation took their places in kindergarten, no one mentioned the school's part-time quarters and ambitious building plans.

"OK, this is your room," said Susan Valerien, who watched her daughter head straight to her hook on the wall to hang up her raincoat and backpack. Katherine was the first to arrive at teacher Amy Kenney's kindergarten class. "She's been talking about school for weeks," said Valerien.

Within a few minutes, the classroom was a blur of activity, as parents snapped pictures, the teacher distributed name tags and children explored.

Tom Ruff of Crownsville escorted his 5-year-old daughter Samantha, while his wife took the girl's twin sister, Tyler, to the other kindergarten class.

"It's the first time they've been separated," said Ruff, who noted that Samantha had put curlers in her hair the night before.

In the hallways of the parish center, parents and school staff peeked into the kindergarten classrooms as they filled up with children.

"It's so exciting to see little people walking around," said school secretary Donna DeGrange. "To have everything new and start from scratch, it's a dream."

The new school is being sponsored by five parishes: Our Lady of the Fields, St. Joseph in Odenton, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Crofton, Holy Family in Davidsonville and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Edgewater.

"Over the past 10 years, many of our members have tried to get their kids into other Catholic schools in the area and were told, 'We're full,'" said the Rev. Michael J. Callaghan, director of the interparish school project and pastoral director of the Waugh Chapel Mission Community, which will be based on school grounds.

The archdiocese donated $2.5 million toward the $10 million construction cost of the new school, and the capital campaign by the five parishes has raised nearly $4 million, he said.

School of the Incarnation had no trouble filling its 50 kindergarten slots, with an annual tuition of $3,500.

Many parents at yesterday's opening said they were products of the Catholic school system and wanted religion to be a part of their child's education.

"I did my 13 years at Catholic school," said Jery Winters of Odenton, who brought his son Alfonso to kindergarten yesterday. "I like a values-based education."

In addition to the religious component, some parents said a private school could provide their children with more individual attention and discipline than a public school could.

Wilmagrace Carpenter of Crofton, whose son, Tyler-Matthew, shed a few tears when she and her husband tried to leave the classroom yesterday, said she didn't have confidence in county public schools.

"My sister's a fifth-grader at Four Seasons Elementary School, and I can see her struggling," said Carpenter, who added that her 10-year-old sister will go to St. Mary's Catholic School in Annapolis next year.

School of the Incarnation will remain in its temporary quarters next year and add a first grade. Plans call for the school to add grades two through six when the 60,000-square-foot school building is completed in 2002. School officials plan to add seventh and eighth grades over the ensuing two years, for a total of 540 students.

The school property also will be home to a Roman Catholic church and parish center for the Waugh Chapel Mission Community.

By the time Principal Barbara M. Edmonson called a meeting with parents yesterday morning, the two kindergarten classes had begun to settle down. Gathered in a circle in front of her, Kenney's pupils were helping the teacher write the class rules.

On the list: "No hitting, no shoving and no biting."

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