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.”
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. baltimorelabschool.org. 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. bethelbalto.com. 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. bethtfiloh.com. 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. calverthall.com. Grades: 9-12, All-male. Enrollment: 1,200. Affiliation: Roman Catholic and Lasallian. 11/8, 12-4 p.m.
105 Tuscany Rd. 410-243-6054. calvertschoolmd.org. Grades: Pre-K-8, coed. Enrollment: 591. Affiliation: Non-sectarian. 10/14, 10/27, 11/12, 9-11 a.m.
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.
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. friendsbalt.org. 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, gfs.org. 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.
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.
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. Harfordday.org. 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. highlandsschool.net. 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. theimmaculate.org. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, stt.org. 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. setonkeough.com. 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. shadysideacademy.org. 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.