Maureen K. Appel begins her tenth year as Head of School at the Connelly School of the Holy Child. She met with the Potomac Almanac on Thursday, Sept. 11, discussing her decade leading Holy Child, and the significance of the date being remembered.
What are the biggest changes to Holy Child in the years you have been head of school?
“In 1994, we were a school with an enrollment of 244 students, and today we have… 444. Over the years, we constantly had to deal with growing and expansion, and it has taken a lot of work to make the physical facility provide an optimal learning experience for the students.”
“Over the last fall, we opened… Connelly Hall, a library, technology center, a middle school and fine arts cluster.
How did you and Holy Child proceed through Sept. 11 and last year’s sniper scare?
“The mood today [the second anniversary of Sept. 11] is almost somber in the building. We had two prayer services this morning, and I was astounded by the spirituality of the girls, the somberness, the peace; it was a day just like today.”
“At this very time [two years ago] I was standing there, trying to hug every girl and say goodbye, wondering what was going to happen, wondering if anyone had lost immediate family. … I think it was that day, more than any other one event, that made me realize how much I love what I do and the… great responsibility I have. It was suddenly as if you realized that you had a huge family needing you. … I just knew I had chosen the right profession for myself, as difficult as it was.”
“[The sniper incident] was a blatant reminder of how vulnerable we are. … There was a whole focus we did not learn about in [education studies]. I had a lot of anxiety about the first anniversary [of Sept. 11], and so as part of student orientation, we had an evacuation drill for Code Red and Code Blue, and I thought how sad that was that we had to do that as part of student orientation.”
What is a challenge Holy Child faces as a school?
“As a community, we have tried to involve all of our constituents in our [five-year strategic plan]. We are on nine acres, and certainly as part of our plan we would look and hope to acquire additional property for primarily field space and parking space.”
“Really maintaining our spirituality, especially given what’s going on in the world. … We want to graduate women of action, women of faith, women who are all that they can be and who can be responsive to the challenges in the world, who can respond with joy and zeal and compassion.”
With the caliber of public schools in the area, what can a private school, and in particular Holy Child, offer to prospective students?
“Especially in Montgomery County, we have some of the finest schools, not only regionally, but in the nation, and clearly academically, they’re excellent.”
“Our student-teacher ratio for one, is 8-1, so keeping our class size is important. … We have a commitment to the arts, fine arts and performing arts. … In this kind of a [small-school] setting, it is the intent for the teachers to … not only help students identify their talents, but then to coach them, to urge them to pursue these talents, talents they might not have even known they had, and therein lies the difference. It’s about people, it’s about recognizing the uniqueness of each individual, and it is about fostering that in and out of the classroom.”
What do you love most about being head of Holy Child?
“It’s impossible to have a bad day, when you have students walking into your office, and just leaving you little notes. … Every day, there’s a little bit of sunshine.
Is there anything you’d like to see parents do more?
“I think not only here at Holy Child, but in this area, I think our students are stressed. I think they could work with us to really give them a balance in their lives. … They don’t have to be programmed every second. It’s okay to have down time; it’s okay to have real free time.”
“In this area, we have a very, very bright parent population, and they’re well educated, and they do want the very best for their children. Sometimes it’s very difficult to keep that sense of balance. They do aspire to the most competitive colleges. … I would hope that the events of recent times have shown us that each day is a gift, and we have one life, and you want to live that one life.”