When Calvert Hall College High School opened its doors on West Saratoga Street in September 1845, the city was a thriving port and railroad hub.
“Everything was dedicated to keeping those two things going,” says Francis O’Neill, a research librarian with the Maryland Historical Society.
Baltimore was geographically smaller—its northernmost boundary was North Avenue—but booming. Immigrants from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland and other places in central Europe regularly came to the port, with most leaving almost as soon as they arrived to join relatives in Pittsburgh, Chicago and other cities, O’Neill says.
Those who remained found work on the wharfs or the rails. Until World War I, most of the city’s inhabitants had no more than an eighth-grade education. Yet, the mid-19th century was a time of growth for new schools in this city (see accompanying story).
The Episcopal and Catholic churches had seen success opening schools in Europe and New England, and that trend began to extend to other areas in the states. Calvert Hall was the first school the Christian Brothers constructed in the U.S.; it earned its name from Maryland’s founding family and got the distinction of “Hall,” because the two-story school, which cost a little more than $10,000 to build, had the largest hall in Baltimore.
Flash forward: In the 21st century, the area’s private school community continues to thrive, including Calvert Hall. Nearly 1,200 students from more than 100 ZIP codes attend the school, now in Towson (the third location in its history). Brother John Kane is in his sixth year as the school’s president, arriving at the high school after serving as director of academic support for athletes at Pennsylvania’s LaSalle University.
It’s not the “same school your grandfather or father went to,” Kane says. There are STEM classes and classrooms, other new courses and expanded athletic facilities. Yet, the “notion of community continues,” he says, adding that this is the goal. “How do we make sure that continues? You are never at the end of the race.”
How is an all-boys school relevant in 2020? It’s something that Kane, who has taught at both coed and all-boys schools, has given some thought to as well, noting studies that show a difference in learning style and maturation between boys and girls, particularly at younger ages.
Single-gender schools “create an atmosphere that allows kids to be more themselves,” he says. “More of
our guys get involved in different things at different times without the fear of being looked down on.”
And that’s what they need to grow into leaders, he adds.