Why Maryland families drive long distances for an education, By: Laura Barnhardt Cech from Chesapeakefamily.com

October 14, 2013

From Chesapeake Family Magazines website  www.Chesapeakefamily.com

There are families willing to fight traffic and log long miles in the car to send their children to Maryland private schools no matter how far.

Teenagers huddle in the dark outside the Annapolis Trader Joe’s with backpacks and granola bars. Most are still bleary-eyed as they begin their hour-long ride to school — a pre-dawn mental fog familiar to anyone who commutes for work.

Other families put half-sleeping kids in backseats and make the long trek to private school solo, using the quiet of the morning to talk and finish breakfasts wrapped to go.

“It’s a family commitment,” says Cynthia Crawford, who drives her 13-year-old son, Sawyer Lynch, from Annapolis to Baltimore, where he attends Gilman School. “But happy kid, happy family… To see the transformation in him — it’s absolutely worth the drive.

” They are hardly the only ones. Buses leaving from Trader Joe’s near the Annapolis Town Centre and Einstein Bagels in Severna Park are filled with students headed north for schools in and around Baltimore. And schools in Annapolis draw students from Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.

At Annapolis Area Christian School, for example, dozens of students travel more than 30 miles, coming from five counties, says Jennifer Good, a school spokeswoman. To get to McDonogh School in Owings Mills, more than 75 students ride the bus from Annapolis, according to school officials. And admissions officials at Gilman say 30 students come from Anne Arundel County, and 32 more students travel more than 30 miles, as far away as Bel Air and western Howard County.

Busing for a better school fit

Bernadette Solomon’s daughters, Tessa, 15, and Bella, 12, travel from Severna Park to McDonogh School in Owings Mills. Although the family had chosen their house because of the great public schools nearby, “The schools are wonderful — until they’re not working for your child… You do what you have to meet the needs of your particular child.”

Solomon was surprised that a preppy school with uniforms would be the best fit for her daughters. But McDonogh’s philosophy of creating lifelong learners, extracurricular activities such as drama, and a top-notch writing program won the family over.

Many parents say they never expected to travel so far for their children’s education. Almost all said as they toured schools, they included a school farther away at someone’s recommendation or just to compare. But when they examined the school’s offerings, whether they were looking for a certain program, or a mix of academics and athletics, or just a certain atmosphere, parents said the distance became less of a factor.

Crawford, for example, was struck by how teachers and staff relate to the students at Gilman, speaking to them with respect that she says is mutual. And the mix of academics and athletics, freedom and structure proved to be just right for her son, she says.

In the end, the commute isn’t wasted time, Crawford and others say.

For the Solomons, the bus ride from the Einstein Bagel’s parking lot to McDonogh has become a treasured part of the girls’ day. The bus driver, who easily could be mistaken for Santa Claus (and often is), leads the kids in songs — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a favorite. He hosts on-bus pizza parties, and decorates for Halloween.

“They adore him,” says Solomon.

Some private schools share buses and even offer activity busses that leave later to accommodate kids who play sports. Families point out their kids may actually spend less time on the bus than students attending local schools. The in-town buses make a dozen or more stops, while the buses that run from Annapolis-area spots to Baltimore schools are a straight shot.

Cynthia Crawford often sees students going to the local high school when she and her son leave their house for Gilman at 6:45 a.m. She opts to drive her son in the morning to give him as much sleep as possible. And, she says, “It’s a chance to talk about the day ahead, to refocus.”

In the evening, Sawyer rides the bus home. “It’s down time — it’s his time to be with his friends, listen to his iPod.”

He’s home by 5 p.m. and can still do one sport per season because he’s already had a study hall period to do some of his homework, the mother says.

“It’s helped me with my time management,” says Sawyer, an eighth grader at Gilman. “In the morning, I finish eating breakfast… My mom quizzes me for tests… On the bus, I have friends. I’ve met a lot of people who go to other schools…. But if I’m really tired, I put my hoody over my head and go to sleep.”

Distance education

Bamdad Bahar, who lives in Chester, has a 15-year-old son, Piroz, and a 17-year-old daughter, Pegah, in school at McDonogh.

Over the past six years, the family has dealt with the hour-plus commute in various ways. First, they rented an apartment and moved to Owings Mills to be closer to the school. Bahar, who is a small business owner, and his wife, a dentist in Annapolis, commuted the longer distance to work.

“It was a tough decision, but we have these talented kids and we wanted the best for them,” he says.

While there are schools closer, there was none that better addressed the kids’ academic level — they’re both straight-A students — and love of sports, says Bahar.

When the bus route from Annapolis to Baltimore was offered several years later, the children rode the bus.

“It was very efficient,” says Bahar. “Because it only made two stops, they were often home sooner than some of the buses from the local schools.”

But when Piroz and Pegah were eligible to become borders in the ninth grade, they both chose to live at the school.

“They love it,” Bahar says. “It works out beautifully.”

The kids often come home on weekends, and their parents visit during the week, catching as many of their games or going for dinner as the schedule allows.

“There are amazing kids there,” says Bahar.

And the close relationships with older students have helped the children. For example, Bahar’s daughter was well prepared for the college application process because she’d lived with students who were going through it before her.

That’s the bottom line for families with long commute — they focus on the positives, whether it’s the extra moments to talk about the day, practice for quizzes, or be silly with friends.

“Do I wish (the school) was around the corner?” asks Solomon. “Absolutely. But we make the best of it.”


From Chesapeake Family Magazines website  www.Chesapeakefamily.com

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