School offers students a real-life curriculum

Adam Shulkin is an important man at the Harbour School in Owing Mills.

As president of the school's bank, he oversees management of each student's "Harbour dollars," which allow them to purchase anything from a book in the school's bookstore to an overnight senior trip to the Poconos.


Like many students at Harbour, which celebrated its 25th birthday yesterday, Shulkin, 20, has a learning disability. The bank is part of the school's Village program, which aims to show students how the lessons they learn in the classroom are useful in real life and prepares them for jobs after they graduate.

"It's the coolest educational program I've ever been in, in terms of linking learning to what goes on in the real world," said Martha Schneider, Harbour's program director.


Students at Harbour suffer from physical, learning and mental disorders, including autism and cerebral palsy. In addition to the bank and bookstore, students also produce a newspaper, run a bakery and tend to other shops and tasks as part of the Village program.

Greg Nickey, the paper's photographer, has cerebral palsy and a learning disorder, but that hasn't stopped him from setting up a studio in his parents' home and selling photos in stores such as Greetings and Readings.

Nickey, 20, said his favorite picture is one he took of a dolphin named "Smiley" at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Zachary Manuel draws cartoons for the paper. He draws a comic series, "The Blagwelles," about a humorously dysfunctional family and said he is developing concepts for an animated TV series. He has Asperger's disorder, a form of autism marked by a high IQ and social difficulties. "I've been doodling since I was small, before I had talent," said Manuel, 18.

Students are grouped together for the Village program based on their interests, said Stephen J. Peacock, Harbour's director of development. This allows students from Harbour's lower, middle and high schools to work together.

Harbour, which has locations in Owings Mills and Annapolis, is a private, nonprofit school running from first to 12th grade. About 98 percent of Harbour's students start out in public schools, until they reach a point where their needs can't be met, Peacock said. At that point, their county school systems can recommend them for placement and pay the annual tuition of about $30,000. Peacock said the remaining 2 percent of students come from families who seek out Harbour without going through the recommendation process and have the means to pay on their own.

In addition to the Village program, students also receive vocational training in shop work, landscaping, food service and office practice. Students must complete three months in a paid work experience or complete a college class to graduate, Schneider said. The school teams up with several businesses, including Safeway and Minuteman Press, to provide work experience for students.

Students in the office practice training program handle all the school's mail and perform other tasks, such as creating invitations to school functions and engraving replica Oscar trophies for participants in the school play.


At the Village's bank, students deposit checks of Harbour dollars they earn by meeting goals in class. Each student can earn up to $5 in each of Harbor's 10 periods every day. The trip to the Poconos costs 3,000 Harbour dollars.

The Village also has a Town Hall, which collects taxes to pay for services such as recycling collection. Many students complained about the taxes when they were workers but realized the need for them when they served in Town Hall, said Schneider.

"It gives them a sense of why things link together that can't happen in a classroom," she said.

The Harbour School at a glance

Private, nonprofit school serving students with physical, learning and mental disabilities


Opened in 1982, locations in Owings Mills and Annapolis

About 105 students attend Owings Mills location, more than 260 total students at both locations

90 percent of alumni are employed, in postsecondary education or attending vocational day training

Cost per year is approximately $30,000, usually covered by students' home county school systems (Source: The Harbour School)