Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Brookewood ready for second year, more students

All-girls school is expanding to 10th grade after its first year on Armory Avenue

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Joe McPherson, Brookewood School headmaster, smiled at the surveys his students filled out before the end of the school’s first year.

‘‘Just about every one of them checked [off] that last year it was ‘better than they expected,’” he said Thursday.

Sixty-six girls in second through ninth grades were the first students last year to attend Brookewood School, which is housed in the Sunday school wing of St. Paul United Methodist Church, 10401 Armory Ave. in Kensington.

Brookewood opened last September as a sister school to The Avalon School, a school for boys in grades three through 12 that opened in 2003.

McPherson said he and school founders on the Avalon Education Group Board of Directors had always planned for a sister school for the all boys school in Bethesda.

The group believes that boys and girls are better educated when separated, especially in a Catholic-based education. Although the two schools are not part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, religion classes and the curriculum are based on the New Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text that defines the religion’s tenets.

That positive response spread and nearly 100 students are enrolled for the 2007-08 school year.

Parents, teachers and administrators said it was a successful first year and are excited for returning and new students — in first through 10th grades — to start classes next week.

‘‘Everyone thought things had been done well, and amazingly, smoothly last year,” McPherson said. ‘‘It’s always a challenge in the first year, mostly because you’re trying to create a tradition at the school.”

Traditions and yearly activities need time to develop at a school, he said. Dorothy Warner, of Rockville, said her seventh-grade daughter appreciated being one of the first in the school.

‘‘To be present at the creation of the school, where her first day was the same as the school’s first day, was something special,” she said. ‘‘I think the girls have formed a really tight community and they’re looking forward to getting back and adding a few more members to that community.”

Teachers like Anne Marie McMahon enjoyed the inaugural year as well.

‘‘It was a challenge to write a new curriculum,” she said on Friday. ‘‘But I like having that blank canvas and not being compared to another teacher, like if they said, ‘Oh Mrs.-so-and-so did things that way.’ It promotes a lot of creativity.”

I have a perspective now on what worked and what didn’t in my music class, she said, and now I have more of a sense of who the students are and what they need.

‘‘It’s definitely all about the community at school,” she said.

The school community started from the sisters of boys in the all-male Avalon School.

‘‘You have to cater to their differences,” McPherson said. ‘‘For example, I’ve always noticed that boys won’t sing as much when there are girls around.”

Boys and girls have different inherent learning processes, he said, and need a unique curriculum to develop. He said he noticed the differences first-hand when teaching math.

Girls would follow each step in a formula and answer a question when they had the final answer. Boys, on the other hand, would skip steps in the formula or venture guesses before reaching final conclusion.

Brookewood classes are small with 15 students per class and 13 teachers, but McPherson said that was a goal of teachers and administrators.

The school plans to enroll girls from first through 12th grade, and last year’s ninth-grade class would be the first to graduate from Brookewood as the school expands one grade per year.

There are frequent field trips to museums in the District, service hours at retirement communities and nature walks that are better organized with a small group of students.

Warner said her daughter really enjoyed the trips.

‘‘She’s in seemingly perpetual motion and she’s always been an outdoorsy, active girl,” she said. ‘‘Sometimes they’ll go on a half-day or morning trip and go back to the regular routine for the rest of the day.”

In the same day her daughter read ‘‘Thumbelina,” a fairy tale about a girl no bigger than a thumb, the rising seventh-graders went to the Bonzai tree garden at the National Arboretum.

Then, for contrast, they saw ‘‘The Awakening,” a 100-foot statue of a giant embedded in the earth at Hains Point in the District.

‘‘It was a fantastic experience,” Warner said.

For more information on Brookewood or Avalon, visit www.brookewood.org or www.avalonschools.org