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