KINGSVILLE – When St. Stephen School in Bradshaw opened its new middle school building Jan. 2, it wasn’t a moment too soon for Principal Mary Patrick and students.
“We’ve been talking about more room and more educational space since I walked onto campus,” she said.
That was 18 years ago.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the school building housed both a high school and a grade school. Until they got their own building in 2014, preschoolers were squeezed in with the elementary grades, which now benefit from a more spacious learning environment.
“Educationally, the way we teach is different now,” Patrick said.
She noted that lectures have given way to a more collaborative style of teaching, with hands-on projects and small-group learning, which require more space.
Kathy Schucker, an English and Language Arts teacher, couldn’t wait to move into her eighth-grade homeroom.
“It’ll be good to have a state-of-the-art classroom,” she said.
In recent years, teachers have made do with closet-sized rooms or cramped spaces. Schucker said a curtain-like divide separated her classroom from another. Her room was spacious enough but not the other teacher’s.
“It (was) an incredibly small space,” she said. “I’m really excited for a new identity for the middle school. It gives them space to grow. It’ll be good for the transition to high school.”
The single-story, handicapped-accessible brick structure sits on a right angle to the present school and across the parking lot from the preschool.
Groundbreaking was held last St. Patrick’s Day. Conewago Enterprises Inc. of Hanover, Pa., did most of the construction work on the $1.5 million building last summer. Archbishop William E. Lori blessed the new middle school Jan. 5.
“The fact that it is there is a tribute to Mary (Patrick) and the teachers at St. Stephen’s,” said Deacon Frank Laws, the parish’s temporary administrator until Jan. 1, who noted the number of students who go on to Catholic high schools and win scholarships. “It is a program that is well-known for being successful.”
Homerooms occupy three corners of the new building. A fourth corner classroom devoted to science and technology is equipped with tables and an enormous closet for science materials, including the drones and robotics programs. Two interior classrooms are set aside for small-group learning.
White boards share wall space with BenQ interactive flat-screen boards that connect to a computer, the Internet or TV, and work with other high-tech tools. Walls are painted in pastel blue and light floods in through large picture windows. The floors are a warm-brown laminate.
“We made sure we had a space that was modern and bright with light and plenty of room to move around,” Patrick said.
There are no more old-fashioned teacher’s desks, according to Patrick. Instead, teachers have wheeled podiums to move among their students with their instructional materials.
“It’s all about being present for the kids,” she said.
Schucker is excited about lightweight student seating that’s easily rearranged and storage bins that reduce clutter and make materials accessible to students and teachers.
“It’s going to give us more options,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a whole lot easier in this new building.”
Teachers have their own workroom; students have lockers outside their homerooms.
St. Stephen Church, in northeast Baltimore County, dates to the Civil War. It opened a school in 1931. The main campus building, opened in 1953, housed both elementary and high schools until 1964, when The John Carroll School opened.
The new building won’t enable the school to add students, according to Patrick, as county water and sewage restrictions require it to remain near its current enrollment of 349. With more than 100 students, the middle school is already at capacity.
A $1.7 million bequest in 2013 from Richard Rutkowski, whose daughter had attended St. Stephen’s years ago, served to greenlight the expansion.
“They were very fortunate to get the bequest,” said Bob Melewski, the parish business manager.
Under since-retired pastor, Father Larry Kolson, in 2018 the parish launched a capital campaign with a goal of $3.1 million. It is expected to last until 2021, according to Melewski.
The parish devised a master plan for both the middle school and a new parish center, according to Deacon Laws, who said, “This is our parish. This is our opportunity to make it grow and be vibrant.”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore requires parishes to develop master plans before construction, according to Doug Johnson, of the archdiocesan Facilities and Real Estate Management Division. His colleague, Matt Regan, guided the parish committee through the master plan process while Johnson offered his expertise for the design and construction of the new school.
“Our job is to make sure they get a good job from the designers and builders,” Johnson said.
Now that the middle-schoolers have moved, the lower grades are spreading out. Third grade will move to the second floor, along with the fourth and fifth grades, and the nurse’s office, formerly near the front door, will take up space elsewhere.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Schucker, the eighth-grade homeroom teacher. “We’re very blessed it have it opening now.”