Denise Curtis and her husband wanted to try something different when they moved to Delaware. Their children had attended public school in Montgomery County, Md., and although that public school system is noted as one of the best in the country and was part of the reason they had settled where they did, when they moved full-time to Delaware, they were ready to try something new.
“We interviewed different public and private schools,” said Denise Curtis. “And we decided to go with MBS [Most Blessed Sacrament]. They were really child-oriented, as most schools are, but the balance of nurturing the children in a kind and loving environment and teaching respect and self-reliance has made us extremely happy.”
Most Blessed Sacrament is a five-year-old Catholic school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grades on Race Track Road in Berlin, Md.
Curtis noted that, as newcomers to the area, starting at a new school and transitioning to a new house was hard on her kids, and the school really took them under their wing. The family-like environment also made it easier.
“At MBS, there is a real tight bond between parents and teachers. At family functions, teachers are invited, and [at public school back in Maryland] that just wouldn’t have happened.”
She also recalled a time before her husband had made the full-time move to the area – when she was staying by herself with the children through the week and traveling to Maryland to visit her mother, who was very ill – when a teacher’s kindness and selfless offer made her realize she has chosen the right place.
“I had a first-grader, a second-grader, and a 4-year-old. And after I had been dropping the kids off at school, I would travel to visit my mother in Maryland at the hospital, and the second-grade teacher said, ‘I’ll watch your kids.’
“I was flabbergasted,” Curtis recalled. “For a teacher to reach out on that personal a level… But, frankly, that’s the community we have here. To go so far above and beyond... I’ve found that that’s pretty typical.”
Curtis is one of a few parents who have sent their children to the Catholic school even though the Catholic Church is not their faith.
“I am a Russian Orthodox, and the Christian values were important to us,” she said. “My husband is Catholic, and we believe whatever you can give them in the way of Christian values gives them a foundation they can rely on. And they are getting a good education to boot.”
The family-like environment is something that drew Molly Mullins to the school, as well. Mullins, and her husband, Joe, both Catholics, both received Catholic-school education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Molly Mullins was actually on the steering committee for Most Blessed Sacrament at its inception, and her oldest child started in the pre-K class the first year they were open. The Mullinses now have three boys at MBS, and Molly has been the school nurse for two years now.
“It was important to my husband and I, for our children to attend Catholic school,” said Mullins. “We believed it would enhance their character and spiritual growth and their connection with God. And we want them to be able to freely express their faith, and their love for God and Jesus, and to learn about Jesus and the Catholic religion.”
Mullins has been more than impressed with the curriculum at MBS and respects the core values that her children get, along with their academic education.
“Character and their faith and the ‘What would Jesus do?’ is a basis for their daily leanirng,” she said. “There is such a strong emphasis on character. Besides the school staff and principal being caring, it truly feels like a family, and I feel totally comfortable with my children in their hands.”
The school also has a state-of-the-art security system, complete with locked front doors and cameras at the front desk – something Mullins added she feels is “wonderful.”
The school has eight sponsoring parishes and, this summer, after physically going out to churches in the Seaford, Georgetown and Millsboro areas, they more than tripled their numbers from those parts of the state.
New this year for MBS is a second school bus, which starts out each weekday in the Seaford area. The other bus starts out in Rehoboth and goes down through Bethany, Clarksville and Selbyville.
The school currently serves 87 children from Delaware and 106 from Maryland. While this makes for an average size class of about 15, Principal Amy Mike said they would like to eventually reach their full capacity, which is 300 students.
“We’ve added a new admissions office,” said Mike. “And word of mouth is great. We are getting busy and increasing enrollment.”
As both Mullins and Curtis noted, the family-like environment is something that Mike and new Admissions Coordinator Valerie Sharp (herself the mother of two MBS students) see as the common thread that weaves the parents and school together.
“We participate in ‘Character Counts,’” said Mike. “It’s a nationally recognized program that puts an emphasis on responsibility, fairness, citizenship, respect, caring and trustworthiness. As a member, MBS actively lives the Character Counts program.”
They also put those lessons into real-life action each week when they attend liturgy together as a school on Thursday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church across the street. “We have a buddy system,” said Mike, “Where an older student will be matched with a younger one.”
In addition to weekly liturgy and daily religion lessons, the school has a full curriculum, including art, music, library, physical education and Spanish.
“It’s our goal to educate the whole child,” explained Mike. “Along with those, we have a core curriculum, which includes religion, reading, language arts, social studies and science.”
She emphasized that they have a full curriculum, including enrichment areas – many of which today see the crunch of public school budgetary restraints – because of the commitment of the school, as well as the parents.
“The parents have made the commitment,” said Mike. “We operate on a shoestring budget. We have a phenomenal Home and School [Administration, or HAS, similar to PTO or PTA in public schools] that really is our fundraising arm. After just one year, they purchased the playground equipment. They bought a whole new math program,” she said, noting its worth of $15,000 to $18,000.
“And when we came up short with money from the diocese, they came up with a payment plan that allowed us to borrow money upfront from the diocese and pay them back for our soccer field and irrigation system,” she added. “We can always count on them for $15,000 to $20,000 of our basic budget — before any extras.”
Sharp added that, instead of small fundraisers throughout the year, the school, with the help from the HSA, has three main fundraisers each year, one of which is held in the fall, in October, as a meet-and-greet for parents, teachers and students, as well as an invitation for the community to come and see what the school is all about.
This year, the weekend starts off with a walkathon on Friday, Oct. 17, and then on Sunday, Oct. 19, they have a moon bounce, slides, a “Chinese” auction, pony rides, a scarecrow and fish painting. The festival is open to the public.
The other two main fundraising events are a dinner/auction and a fashion show.
The school also participates in sports. They have co-ed golf and soccer, as well as basketball and girls’ softball, in which they play against other non-public schools in the area.
They pride themselves on being a “Character Counts” school and maintaining a strong discipline policy, but Mike said they are far from the stereotypical Catholic education of the past that always seems to come up when the subject turns to Catholic education, often paired with tales of nuns who cracked students on the knuckles.
“Oh, no,” laughed Mike. “There is no corporal punishment.”
“But there is a strong emphasis on discipline that emphasizes the positive, too,” interjected Sharp. “We strive to teach students to be kind and practice random acts of kindness.”
And that is something that parents like Curtis have seen firsthand.
“You know, I never took her up on it,” said Curtis of the offer made by her child’s second-grade teacher to help with childcare while she was taking care of her mother. “But I thought it was so kind. When you are down and out, somebody extends that kindness to you and you never forget it. It left a major impression on me.”
Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School is located at 11242 Racetrack Road, Berlin, Md. The phone number is (410) 208-1600. For more information, visit them online at www.mostblessedsacramentschool.com.