Julie and David Rowlett had always figured they would send their three kids to the local public school. But they also wanted to explore all of their options. Eventually those options narrowed to The One, their school soulmate, their Cinderella’s glass slipper: Glenelg Country School in Ellicott City.
It was just a perfect fit, Julie Rowlett says, for all three — Jacob the fourth-grader, Emma the second-grader and Caroline the preschooler.
“We’re in a great [public] school system,” Julie Rowlett says. “We bought our house in a great neighborhood, but I just didn’t get the same feel.”
The Rowlett kids are three of about 50,000 across Maryland and Washington, D.C. enrolled in independent schools that are members of the Association of Independent Maryland and D.C. Schools (AIMS), the local association of independent schools.
And while heading to private school for the pre-college years can seem like the tailor-made way to get into college, school officials and parents can name a lot of benefits in getting kids started in independent schools at younger ages.
“I think that what I hear often and what we certainly believe is that the early years of education give kids the curiosity and inquisitiveness and excitement over learning,” says Peter Daily, executive director of AIMS, “and learning habits of exploration and experimentation and categorization and analysis that create the foundation for all future learning.”
This was echoed by the schools themselves, who say children’s early learning years set the stage for the rest of their education careers.
Plus, says Carla Spawn-van Berkum, assistant head of school for academics for
Roland Park Country School, the best way to get into Roland Park’s high school is to attend Roland Park’s lower school.
“The best preparation for our high school is our middle school, and the best preparation for our middle school is our lower school,” she says.
There are a lot of reasons parents decide on their schools, officials say.
Without the requirements that come with being a public school, private schools have more flexibility in their approach and curriculum, along with smaller class sizes. At Glenelg, for example, there is a lot of cross-curriculum work, and their approach for kids is very project based, says Hilary McCarthy, Glenelg’s lower school assistant head. The fourth-graders just recently made a large electric pond — a project that required coding skills along with knowledge of nature and science.
And by getting them started young, McCarthy says, “the sky’s the limit as they get older.”
In light of #MeToo and the realities of growing up a woman these days, maybe parents are looking for a place where their daughters can feel empowered. That’s what Roland Park, an all-girls school, hears from a lot of parents.
There’s no shortage of role models for young girls at Roland Park, Spawn-van Berkum says. The older and younger students alike take advantage of opportunities to work and learn together.
It’s teaching girls how to say, “We’re here and not to be messed with,” as Spawn-van Berkum puts it.
Other parents want to ensure their children’s religious identity is front and center. That’s where a school such as School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in north Baltimore City comes in. There, the students’ moral and Catholic character are nurtured along with their academics, says head of school Michael Wright.
“It’s not just religion class,” he says, “but imbues everything we do.
Wright adds that parents should at least look into private schools because they can be “a great option” for a lot of kids.
“There’s a school for every child and a child for every school,” he says, a comforting-sounding mantra parents can repeat to themselves during the stress of finding that school.
And, says Daily at AIMS, private schools don’t have to be a huge burden on the wallet either. Almost all of their schools, he adds, have robust financial aid programs, and parents shouldn’t let finances be the reason to count out an independent school entirely.
As for the Rowlett kids, according to Julie, they couldn’t be happier.
“They just love [Glenelg],” she says. “They see it as they’re not at school, they’re playing.”