Gov. Ho­gan vis­its Bene­dic­tine School

Times-Record - - FRONT PAGE - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

RIDGELY — Gov. Larry Ho­gan vis­ited Bene­dic­tine Pro­grams and Ser­vices’ main cam­pus in Ridgely on Tues­day to meet with staff and stu­dents and learn about the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s history, the ser­vices it pro­vides to chil­dren and adults with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties and the fu­ture chal­lenges it faces.

The non­profit cur­rently serves more than 200 chil­dren and adults from Mary­land and sev­eral sur­round­ing states, pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tional, res­i­den­tial, vo­ca­tional train­ing, em­ploy­ment and com­mu­nity liv­ing ser­vices.

Ho­gan’s tour was his first stop on a packed sched­ule of ap­pear­ances through­out the Mid-Shore.

Bene­dic­tine Foun­da­tion Direc­tor Barry Smale first led Ho­gan through a hall­way full of pic­tures and ar­ti­facts from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s history, from its 1887 found­ing by the Sis­ters of the Or­der of St. Bene­dict, af­ter they bought 500 acres of farm­land near Ridgely, to the found­ing of the school in 1959 and fi­nally to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cur­rent form, a mul­ti­func­tional ed­u­ca­tional cen­ter with a vo­ca­tional train­ing cen­ter in Eas­ton and 19 group homes through­out Mary­land’s Up­per Shore and An­napo­lis.

The tour then moved into a con­fer­ence room, full of dis­plays de­pict­ing the many vo­ca­tional and ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices of­fered at the school.

Among the dis­plays was a lo­cally sourced breakfast spread of breads and fruit, pro­vided by the school’s Healthy Way Cafe pro­gram, cre­ated by teacher Lor­raine Slama, re­cently named Ed­u­ca­tor of the Year by The Na­tional Com­mis­sion for the Ac­cred­i­ta­tion of Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Ho­gan grabbed a slice of car­rot-zuc­chini bread and chat­ted with a stu­dent who pre­pared it, be­fore sit­ting down to fur­ther dis­cuss the or­ga­ni­za­tion with Scott Evans, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, and Julie Hickey, ed­u­ca­tion direc­tor.

Hickey said the school on the Ridgely cam­pus cur­rently has 60 stu­dents, 51 of whom live full-time on cam­pus and nine who at­tend dur­ing the day.

“We are part of the ed­u­ca­tional con­tin­uum in Mary­land,” Hickey said. “We serve stu­dents when lo­cal pub­lic schools can­not meet their ed­u­ca­tional needs. We are deal­ing with the most chal­leng­ing stu­dents.”

Evans said five years ago, the school switched to a year-round model, be­cause staff and par­ents agreed many of the stu­dents did not han­dle well mov­ing back and forth be­tween home and the school.

Due to the year-round school model and the low staff-to-stu­dent ra­tio, Evans said, Bene­dic­tine Pro­grams and Ser­vices is one of the largest em­ploy­ers on the East­ern Shore, with 450 em­ploy­ees.

Ho­gan asked about Bene­dic­tine’s bud­get, and how it is funded.

Evans said the or­ga­ni­za­tion has a roughly $26 mil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get. Money comes from state and fed­eral sources, though fed­eral money flows first through the state, as well as from pri­vate tu­ition and fees.

The foun­da­tion also raises about $2 mil­lion a year, Smale said.

Evans said Bene­dic­tine is fac­ing sev­eral com­ing chal­lenges, like com­ply­ing with new fed­eral and state guide­lines, up­grad­ing and re­pur­pos­ing fa­cil­i­ties to help meet those guide­lines, and re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing enough staff.

“We’re try­ing to be in­no­va­tive, while look­ing at sus­tain­abil­ity,” Evans said. “The de­mand for our ser­vices is never go­ing to go away; it is only go­ing to in­crease.”

Ho­gan then walked around the con­fer­ence room to look at the dis­plays de­pict­ing a hand­ful of the vo­ca­tional pro­grams Bene­dic­tine runs, in­clud­ing graphic de­sign, a clean­ing ser­vice and a green­house. Hickey also showed Ho­gan sev­eral of the high- and lowtech tools staff use to help non-ver­bal stu­dents com­mu­ni­cate.

“We look at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to build life skills,” Evans said.

Ho­gan thanked the Bene­dic­tine staff for the work they do, and for work­ing closely with policy mak­ers at the state level.

“You’re in it ev­ery day,” Ho­gan said. “Thank you for ev­ery­thing you’re do­ing here.”

PHOTO BY ABBY AN­DREWS

Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan poses with sev­eral stu­dents dur­ing his visit Tues­day, July 17, to Bene­dic­tine Pro­grams and Ser­vice’s main cam­pus in Ridgely.

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