It's A Match

Here's a primer on selecting the right independent school for your child.

Sponsored by the Friends School of Baltimore

Sponsored by the Friends School of Baltimore

When it came time for Tessa Evarts to think about high school, she had something different in mind than the Lancaster County, PA, public school that her three older siblings attended: Tessa wanted to go to private school—in fact, she wanted a private boarding school.

Every year, for each of the kids, we have always offered alternative options for education, whether that’s home school, boarding school, or a private day school,” says Tessa’s mother, Julie Evarts. “Tessa, being the youngest, is probably our most vocal. She came to us in eighth grade and said, ‘I don’t want to go to public high school next year. I want to go to boarding school and these are the boarding schools that I want to look at.’”

For Evarts and her husband, Rob, distance was one of the most important factors used to narrow down their daughter’s list. New England schools were crossed off since the parents obviously wanted to visit their daughter regularly. They decided to look into several options in Baltimore, about an hour and a half drive from their home, and settled on Garrison Forest School, an all-girls college-preparatory day and boarding school in Owings Mills.

“In the 2014-2015 school year, 9,033 students attended 16 independent schools in the greater Baltimore region,” says Myra McGovern, vice president of media at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). More broadly, the Association of Independent Maryland & D.C. Schools (AIMS) represents about 120 schools in Maryland and D.C., 10 of which offer boarding. And not all private schools are members of these organizations.

With so many institutions to consider, the options can be daunting. But with that quantity of schools comes diversity; and open-house season, typically held by most campuses in the fall, provides an opportunity for parents and children to get to know potential schools from the inside.

Think about what your child needs in a school—like a close-knit community, special activities, or a structured learning environment, suggests McGovern. “Next, take a look at different school websites and make a list of the ones that seem to meet your needs,” McGovern says. “Find out when those schools have open houses or tours and take a look.”

Although open houses are a quick and convenient way to get a first impression, it’s important to return to the school for a second look before making a final decision. “Each time you go, you glean more information,” says Evarts. “The school, good or bad, is trying to earn your money, your student. You need to go more than once to get the feel.” Shadow days, in particular—when potential students are matched up with current students for a full or partial day—allow an inside perspective on what life would be like at a given school.

Philosophy and school culture are some of the first things parents should consider when narrowing down potential schools. The environments of a single-sex boarding school like Garrison Forest and a progressive Montessori institution are vastly different.

When making their final decision, the Evarts family viewed potential schools as partners in the job of raising their daughter. “We’re asking another group of people to help us parent our child, says Evarts. “So we want to team with a group of individuals that we feel most strongly hold our same values and will support the way we choose to parent Tessa.”

One benefit of independent schooling is the opportunity for parent involvement. Thus the role of parents, which is essential to independent schools, is worth considering in the school choice.

“Working together, parents and school professionals exert a strong influence on children to become better educated; they also help them to mature by modeling adult, working relationships based upon civility, honesty, and respect,” says AIMS in its publication Parents and Independent Schools.

As an example, parents are an active part of the community at The New Century School (TNCS), a Montessori-inspired multilingual school in Fells Point offering pre-school to fifth grade. “Each family volunteers for at least eight hours per year,” says Alicia Cooper Danyali, TNCS head of school. “But many parents give much more of their time.” The diverse parent skill sets, from musical performance to computer science, help craft a unique community and culture at TNCS.

Alicia Rojas, school volunteer chair and mother to 5-year-old student Sofia, says that, by volunteering, parents can see their children in the classroom setting and contribute their personal passions. “I could not imagine just dropping my child off at school and relying on the occasional parent-teacher meetings to get a sense of her schooling,” says Rojas.

In addition to culture, many independent schools in the Baltimore area offer specialized learning, extracurricular activities, or good sports teams that attract students. Which is why parents should consider their child’s passions and strengths when picking a school. If he or she is a gifted athlete looking for a sports scholarship, consider schools in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is widely regarded as one of the best lacrosse leagues in the nation and has sent players on to professional teams. If the child is interested in technology, look at schools with dedicated STEM programs, like the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which announced this past spring that it will place a 3D printer in each of its schools as part of increased emphasis on science and math.

Alison Greer, Garrison Forest director of admissions and financial aid, says many boarders come to the school for its equestrian program—it’s one of only two girls’ secondary schools in the nation offering a polo team—and WISE, a Women in Science and Engineering program that places high school students in labs at The Johns Hopkins University. At TNCS, parents are attracted to the Spanish and Mandarin-language immersion programs that begin at age 2.

While parents with younger children are left to make the school decision themselves, older students can provide useful insight in the decision-making process.

Crystal Collins worked with her son’s organizational coach and middle-school counselor to create a list of potential schools that met their main requirements: language and writing support, and a strong soccer team. From there, Collins presented the top two or three choices to her son, Tyler. “At that point, he went on shadow visits to the schools and he picked the school where he felt most comfortable,” says Collins. “The idea was that once I knew both schools met my most important factors, the choice of schools was his.” Tyler is now in his sophomore year at Mount Saint Joseph High School, a Catholic college-preparatory school for young men in Irvington.

When a school is the right match, it often doesn’t take long for parents to see growth in their child. Boarding allowed Tessa to become more independent, and after her freshman year, Rob and Julie saw a change in their daughter.

“She found her own voice,” says Julie Evarts. “She found a voice that wasn’t her sisters’ or her brother’s or even ours. She was in a place that didn’t know her but allowed and encouraged her to develop her own opinion.”

Global Education

The benefits of boarding, across the globe or in your backyard.

When Julie Evarts told her brother that she and her husband were planning to send their daughter, Tessa, to boarding school, his response was, “What did she do? Why are you sending her away?”

It’s a common misunderstanding in some social circles—that boarding schools are for troubled children, or that parents are banishing their kids, never to be seen except for Thanksgiving and vacations. “The biggest misconception about boarding school is that it’s for bad kids that have been sent away,” says Alison Greer, Garrison Forest School’s director of admissions. “There certainly are schools that are designed for those kids, but 95 percent of boarding schools are not that.” More commonly, students choose boarding school for a special program or activity not offered in their hometown, like a top-rated lacrosse team.

Another reason is to prepare for the college experience. “A great benefit is learning and getting those first experiences of independence that you need in college and in life in a little bit more of a structured and supervised environment,” says Greer.

As at universities, the diversity and international perspectives brought to the classroom by boarding students benefit their local peers. Garrison’s boarders come from 10 states and seven countries.

“In our AP Environmental Science class, the girl from Montana has a very different feeling about environmental science than the girl from Owings Mills, and that’s a great conversation,” says Greer. “It gives our girls a really true global education.”

Save the Dates

Below is a list of open houses at schools in the Greater Baltimore region.

Archbishop Spalding High School

8080 New Cut Rd., Severn. 410-969-9105. Grades: 9-12, Coed. Enrollment: 1,100. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 10/25, 12-2 p.m.

Baltimore Lab School

2220 St. Paul St. 410-261-5500. Grades: 1-12, coed. Enrollment: 150. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 12/17, 9-11 a.m.

Beth El at Federal Hill

1530 Battery Ave. 410-602-2245. Grades: 2-4 years of age, coed. Enrollment: n/a (new school). Affiliation: Jewish. 11/10, 3-6 p.m.

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School

3300 Old Court Rd., Pikesville. 410-413-2323. Grades: pre-K-12, Coed. Enrollment: 950. Affiliation: Jewish. 11/22, 10 a.m., high school; 10/29, 9 a.m.; 12/2, 9 a.m.; 11/17, 7 p.m., lower school

The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland

822 W. Lake Ave. 410-377-5192. Grades: K-12, All-male. Enrollment: 600. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/18, 11 a.m.

The Bryn Mawr School

109 W. Melrose Ave. 410-323-8800. Grades: K-12, All-female except coed Little School. Enrollment: 680. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/7, 9:30 a.m. (K-5); 10/15, 8:30-10 a.m., upper school; 11/19, 9-10:30 a.m., middle school; 11/5, 9-10:30 a.m., K-5th grade; 11/18, 8:30-10 a.m., upper school; 12/8, 8:30-10 a.m., middle and upper school

Calvert Hall College High School

8102 La Salle Rd., Towson. 410-825-4266. Grades: 9-12, All-male. Enrollment: 1,200. Affiliation: Roman Catholic and Lasallian. 11/8, 12-4 p.m.

Calvert School

105 Tuscany Rd. 410-243-6054. Grades: Pre-K-8, coed. Enrollment: 591. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/14, 10/27, 11/12, 9-11 a.m.

Cambridge School

110 Sudbrook Ln., Pikesville. 410-486-3686. Grades: K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 110. Affiliation: Christian. 10/20, 6:30-8 p.m., kindergarten; 10/21, 9-11 a.m., open house; 11/4, 9-11 a.m.; 11/18, 9-11 a.m.

The Catholic High School of Baltimore

2800 Edison Hwy. 410-732-6200. Grades: 9-12, all-female. Enrollment: 300. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 10/24, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Columbia Academy

10350 Old Columbia Rd., Columbia. 410-312-7413. Grades: Junior K-8, coed. Enrollment: 200. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/24 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Concordia Preparatory School

1145 Concordia Dr., Towson. 410-825-2323. Grades: 6-12, Coed. Enrollment: 285. Affiliation: Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. 10/24, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Friends School of Baltimore

5114 N. Charles St. 410-649-3200. Grades: pre-K-12, Coed. Enrollment: 812. Affiliation: Quaker. “Lunch and Learn” programs 10/13, 9-11 a.m.; 12/3 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; 11/10, 9-11 a.m.

Garrison Forest School

300 Garrison Forest Rd., Owings Mills. 410-363-1500, Grades: pre-K-12, all-female except coed pre-K. Enrollment: 629. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. Lower school parent visit days 10/13, 8:10-10:30 a.m.; middle school 10/23, 7:45-10 a.m.; upper school 10/20, 9-10:30 a.m.

Gerstell Academy

2500 Old Westminster Pike., Finksburg. 410-861-3000. Grades: pre-K-12, Coed. Enrollment: 355. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/14, 11 a.m.; 10/25, 2 p.m.; 11/8, 2 p.m.; 11/19, 4 p.m.; 3/6, 2 p.m.; 4/19, 11 a.m.; 5/15 11 a.m.

Gilman School

5407 Roland Ave. 410-323-3800. Grades: K-12, All-male. Enrollment: 1,020. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. Upper/middle open house, 10/4, 12-2 p.m. Upper/middle visiting days: 10/14, 10/20, 8:15-10:15 a.m., 11/10, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Lower visiting days, 10/22, 10/28, 11/4, 12/1, 8:40-11 a.m. Grades 2-5, 11/11, 8:30-11 a.m. Grades K-5, 12/8, 8:40-11 a.m.

Glenelg Country School

12793 Folly Quarter Rd., Ellicott City. 410-531-8600. Grades: pre-K-3-12, coed. Enrollment: 750. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/16, 9 a.m., lower school. 11/3, 9 a.m., lower school. 11/19, 9 a.m., upper school. 12/9, 9 a.m. lower school.

Greenspring Montessori School

10807 Tony Dr., Lutherville-Timonium. 410-321-8555. Grades: 18 months-8, Coed. Enrollment: 255. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 1/23, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Harford Day School

715 Moores Mill Rd., Bel Air. Grades: pre-K (age 3)-8th grade, coed. Enrollment: 300. Affiliation: Nonsectarian. 10/15, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.; 10/25, 1-3 p.m.

The Highlands School

2409 Creswell Rd., Bel Air. 410-836-1415. Grades: K-10, coed. Enrollment: up to 80/rolling admissions. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. Call to schedule tour.

Immaculate Conception School

112 Ware Ave., Towson. 410-427-4801. Grades: Pre-K(age 3)-8, coed. Enrollment: 592. Affiliation: Catholic. Middle School Open House 10/7, 6:30-8:30 p.m. General Fall Open House 11/5, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Institute of Notre Dame

901 Aisquith St. 410-522-7800. Grades 9-12, All-female. Enrollment: 354. Affilation: Roman Catholic. 11/7, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Jemicy School

11202 Garrison Forest Rd., Owings Mills (upper school). 11 Celadon Rd., Owings Mills (lower and middle schools). 410-653-2700. Grades: 1-12, Coed. Enrollment: 300. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. Call to schedule tour.

John Paul Regional Catholic School

6946 Dogwood Rd., Windsor Mill. 410-944-0367. Grades: Pre-school-8, Coed. Enrollment: 150-200. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 1/31, 12-2 p.m.

Krieger Schechter Day School

8100 Stevenson Rd., Pikesville. 410-486-8640. Grades: K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 275. Affiliation: Jewish. 10/13, 9 a.m., 12/15, 7 p.m.

Loyola Blakefield

500 Chestnut Ave., Towson. 410-823-0601. Grades: 6-12, All-male. Enrollment: 970. Affiliation: Jesuit Catholic. 10/18, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Maryvale Preparatory School

11300 Falls Rd., Lutherville. 410-252-3366. Grades: 6-12, All-female. Enrollment: 380. Affiliation: Roman Catholic.10/25, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Footing The Bill

Affording a private school education.

The median Baltimore-area day-school tuition set parents back $25,666 for the 2014-2015 school year. Multiply that by four years and multiple children, and financing private education becomes a daunting task.

In addition to financial aid, which about 32 percent of children in Baltimore-area independent schools receive, we’ve asked Richard Dale Horn, senior vice president of wealth management at UBS Financial Services, to share tuition strategies for parents.

How should I create a budget?

Unlike retirement or college, there may be a limited amount of time to save for private school, depending upon when your child is starting. Some clients start saving before their children are born. To help determine how much you need to put away, consider using a financial calculator or financial planner to estimate what needs to be saved per month or year to reach your goal.

What is an ESA?

One of the most effective options for saving is the Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA). The earnings within the ESA are tax-deferred and the distributions will be tax-free if used for eligible education expenses. There are contribution limits, so consult with your tax adviser.

What are common mistakes?

Prioritizing private-school tuition to the detriment of college or retirement savings can have dramatic effects on the future. Start early, save regularly, and maintain discipline through proper budgeting and planning.

McDonogh School

8600 McDonogh Rd., Owings Mills. 410-363-0600. Grades: K-12, coed. Enrollment: 1,298. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/8, 10/21, 11/10, 9 a.m. (lower); 10/18, 12:30-2:30 p.m. (middle); 10/18, 3-5 p.m. (upper)

Mercy High School

1300 E. Northern Pkwy. 410-433-8880. Grades: 9-12, All-female. Enrollment: 300. Affiliation: Catholic. 10/31, 10-1 p.m.

Mother Seton Academy

2215 Greenmount Ave. 410-563-2833. Grades: 6-8. Enrollment: 75. Affiliation: Catholic. 1/24, 12 p.m.

Mount de Sales Academy

700 Academy Rd., Catonsville. 410-744-8498. Grades: 9-12, All-female. Enrollment: 475. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 11/1, 12-3 p.m.

Mount Saint Joseph High School

4403 Frederick Ave. 410-644-3300. Grades: 9-12, All-male. Enrollment: 950. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 11/8, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Notre Dame Preparatory School

815 Hampton Ln., Towson. 410-825-6202. Grades: 6-12, All-female. Enrollment: 760. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 10/17, 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

The Odyssey School

3257 Bridle Ridge Ln., Stevenson. 410-580-5551. Grades: K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 152. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 1/20, 7-9 p.m.

Oldfields School

1500 Glencoe Rd., Sparks-Glencoe. 410-472-4800. Grades: 8-12, All-female. Enrollment: 180. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/25, 1-3 p.m.

Our Lady of Grace School

18310 Middletown Rd., Parkton. 410-329-6956. Grades: preschool-8, Coed. Enrollment: 169. Affiliation: Catholic. Call for times.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

1704 Old Eastern Ave. 410-686-4972. Grades: Preschool-12, Coed. Enrollment: 550. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 10/22, 6-9 p.m., grades 9-12; 11/19, 6:30-9:30 p.m., pre-k-8

Our Lady of Victory School

4416 Wilkens Ave. 410-242-3688. Grades: Pre-K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 298. Affiliation: Catholic. 11/11, 9-11:30 a.m., 1/29, 8:45-10:30 a.m.; 12/13, 11:30 a.m. open house

The Park School of Baltimore

2425 Old Court Rd., Brooklandville. 410-339-7070. Grades: Pre-K-12, Coed. Enrollment: 780. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/17, 1-3 p.m. (lower school), 11/8, 1-3 p.m. (middle & upper schools). Call for times of tours with principals

Redeemer Classical Christian School

6415 Mt. Vista Rd., Kingsville. 410-592-9625. Grades: Pre-K-12, Coed. Enrollment: 240. Affiliation: Christian. 11/12, 6:30 p.m.

Roland Park Country School

5204 Roland Ave. 410-323-5500. Grades: Pre-school-12, All-female except coed preschool. Enrollment: 667. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/18, 1:30-4 p.m.

St. James Academy

3100 Monkton Rd., Monkton. 410-771-4816. Grades: K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 300. Affiliation: Episcopalian. Call for times.

Saint James School

17641 College Rd., Hagerstown. 301-733-9330. Grades: 8-12, Coed. Enrollment: 225. Affiliation: Episcopalian. Call for times.

Sandy Spring Friends School

16923 Norwood Rd., Sandy Spring. 301-774-7455. Grades: Preschool-12, Coed. Enrollment: 570. Affiliation: Quaker. 10/18, 1-4 p.m.

School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen

111 Amberly Way. 410-464-4100. Grades K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 420. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 11/3, 8:30-11:30 a.m.

St. Paul’s School

11152 Falls Rd., Brooklandville. 410-825-4400. Grades: K-4, lower school is coed. Grades: 5-12, middle/upper school is all-male. Enrollment: 766. Affiliation: Episcopalian. 10/16, 9-11 a.m. (lower), call for other dates. Several dates Oct. through Jan. for middle and upper schools. Call for times.

St. Paul’s School for Girls

11232 Falls Rd., Brooklandville. 410-823-6323. Grades: 5-12, All-female. Enrollment: 405. Affiliation: Episcopalian. Call for times.

St. Mark School

26 Melvin Ave., Catonsville. 410-744-6560. Grades: Pre-K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 373. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 11/12, 2/4, 9-11 a.m.

St. Timothy’s School

8400 Greenspring Ave., Stevenson. 410-486-7400, Boarding and day, grades 9-12, All-female. Enrollment: 165. Affiliation: Episcopalian. 10/3, 11/14, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

St. Ursula School

8900 Harford Rd. 410-665-3533. Grades: pre-K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 640. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 11/11, 8:30-11 a.m., 1/26, 12:30-2:30 p.m.

St. Pius X School

6432 York Rd. 410-427-7400. Grades: Pre-K-8, Coed. Enrollment: 215. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 10/11, 11 a.m.-12 p.m.; 11/18, 8:30-11:30 a.m.

The Seton Keough High School

1201 Caton Ave. 410-646-4444. Grades: 9-12, All-female. Enrollment: 240. Affiliation: Roman Catholic. 10/24, 1-3 p.m.

Severn School (now merged with Chesapeake Academy)

201 Water St., Severna Park (middle and upper); 1185 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Arnold (lower school). 410-647-7700. Grades: pre-K-12, coed Enrollment: 810. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 11/5, 7-9 p.m. (upper); 10/21, 7 p.m. (middle); 10/23, 9-11 a.m. (lower school)

Shady Side Academy Senior School

423 Fox Chapel Rd., Pittsburgh PA. 412-968-3180. Grades 9-12, coed, day & boarding. Enrollment: 500. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/31, 11 a.m.

The Waldorf School of Baltimore

4801 Tamarind Rd. 410-367-6808. Grades: nursery-8, Coed. Enrollment: 133. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/25, 2-4 p.m., pre-k-8.

West Nottingham Academy

1079 Firetower Rd., Colora. 410-658-5556. Boarding/day, 9-12, Coed. Enrollment: 130. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. Call for tours.

The Perfect Fit

Finding the right school for a child with special needs.

Finding an independent school that’s the right fit for your child is complicated, but for parents of children with special needs, the process carries additional concerns.

“A common misconception is that their child will not get into any independent school,” says Jennifer Engel Fisher, director of advocacy at Weinfeld Education Group (WEG), an education consultation and advocacy group based in Silver Spring. “It is true that some years are more difficult than others depending on the grade their child is applying to and gender, but there is a school for every child, including those from mild to severe disabilities.”

Many parents worry whether their child will be understood and accepted at a new school. “Although this is a fear of all parents, it is elevated in the special-needs community, especially if their child had many years of academic and social failure in the public schools,” says Engel Fisher. “The truth is that special-education independent schools, especially those specializing in teaching children with disabilities, often employ well-trained faculty and staff who have extensive training in a variety of teaching methodologies that match their student population.”

Parents can also enlist the help of experts when it comes to identifying schools that could be a potential match. The mission of WEG is to help students reach their potential.

“We focus on students who face the increased obstacles presented by their learning challenges and/or disabilities and who are in need of special education or other educational support services,” says Engel Fisher.

When helping to place a child as part of WEG’s school-selection service, Engel Fisher begins by getting a comprehensive understanding of the child’s needs. “Typically, I review all educational records, conduct a student observation, and conference with the student’s teachers, as well as other professionals, such as therapists, in order to make an informed, expert decision,” she says. “I take into consideration the child’s age, disability, gender, rate of progress based on grade, social-emotional status, attention skills, pragmatic skills, as well as the dynamic of the family before making any school recommendations.”

While many parents want to find a school their child can remain at through high school, Engel Fisher encourages parents to look at all options, even if the school ends at the grade- or middle school. “Children change over time and it is not uncommon for parents to move their children from one independent school to another as their child moves from primary to secondary school,” she says.

Fortunately, Baltimore offers a selection of schools for students with special needs. “They range from schools for students who just need smaller class size and some minor accommodations to those for students with multiple disabilities,” says Engel Fisher. Here is just a sampling of the many schools WEG recommends based on the child’s needs:

Schools that serve students with language-based learning disabilities:

Jemicy School, The Odyssey School, Baltimore Lab School, and Glenwood Academy.

Schools that serve children with Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Kennedy Krieger School, St. Elizabeth School, Auburn School, and The Harbour School.

Schools that serve students with an emotional disability:

The Forbush School at Glyndon and Villa Maria School at Dulaney Valley.


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