New Hope Academy offers value-based program


    A stroll through the corridors of the New Hope Academy shows an unusual school where children are well-behaved and where the classrooms remind the observer of a peaceful lounge, complete with sofas.
    Kindergarten at lunch time is an exception. Little hands try to open lunch boxes and the voices grow louder while teachers and aides help the students.
    Then again, even the four-year-olds know the drill and don't start eating until grace is said.
    The academy's 160 students belong to about 20 different religions, and their families come from 33 different countries, said Joy Morrow, the principal of the Landover Hills school. The respect of races and religions is the school's first moral teaching, she said.
    The code of conduct includes 10 items, and revolves around tolerance of others and respect for their property. "Children do best when there are boundaries," Morrow said. Children also learn to resolve conflicts before they escalate.
    The school takes pride in the fact that children with learning disabilities also participate in the same classes with other students, including ones with talented and gifted pupils, Morrow said.
    "My child was just a smashing failure [in the public school system]," explained a mother who wished to remain unnamed because her child has a learning disability. "He had very low self-esteem," she added.
    Her child started at the academy in October and the change in his behavior is remarkable, his mother said. Now 12, he is in 6th grade. "He is on target academically," she said.
    She explained that her son has no short-term memory. "He has to work 10 times harder than the others," his mother said, and repeat things so many times that they become stored in long-term memory. Teachers give him extra time and tutor him after school.
    "He loves school now," she noted; "before he hated school." The phone rings at home for him, and for the first time since he has gone to school he made friends, she said. "I liked that [academy teachers] made him feel good and emphasized the things he was good at."
    The academy offers in-house testing for students who might have learning disabilities. Educating a child encompasses showing him he can be successful and "helping the child to think 'I'm OK'," Morrow said. About eight to ten talented and gifted children have skipped anywhere from one to two grades with their parents' approval. The academy accepts children through grade 8 [see note 1], and ranked in the top 20 percent of schools in the nation on the Stanford Achievement Test last year, she said. Most students study the Korean language, which is the only foreign language practiced at the academy. [see note 2]
    A dozen mothers founded the Landover Hills academy at the site of a former elementary school.
    "We wanted a safe place where our children would be morally helped," said Morrow, one of the founders of the school, which is Maryland certified and licensed.
    Morrow, 44, is a member of the Unification Church, founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in Korea. The 12 founding mothers are also members of the church. However, the academy is not formally affiliated with the Unification Church, Morrow said.
    A portrait of the Rev. Moon and his wife hangs on the wall in the "donor's room." Moon gave a $200,000 donation out of the initial $400,000 start-up cost.
    All initial monies were were donations to the not-for-profit corporation that operates the school, the Unification Educational Foundation, Inc.
    Other donations came from local businesses and from the families who started the school. Morrow said any parent may be elected to serve on the eight-member UEF board of directors.
    Parents are encouraged to get involved in the academy through a co-op program.
    Parents receive a $10 tuition discount per hour worked at the 52,000-square-foot school, earning up to $40 per month.
    Tuition is $4,200 for one child and decreases for the second, down to $2,040 for the third child enrolled.
    Teachers say they enjoy their teaching freedom and the quiet environment. They wouldn't trade their job at the academy, even for twice their income, in the public school system, they say.
    "Here you can really teach and you feel valued as a teacher," said Mike Lamson, a 2nd-grade teacher and Unification Church member. Jennifer Horn, a 4th- and 5th-grade teacher, said she enjoys the fact that teachers have an opportunity to talk about God when necessary.
    Horn, a Catholic, said the values taught at the Landover Hills school make a big difference in the students' behavior.
    "It's not just about academics," Morrow said, "it's about educating the whole child."

Note 1: The following year (1997), New Hope Academy founded
New Hope High School, which has sent graduates on to top universities such as Georgetown and West Point as well as to selective programs at leading universities.

Note 2: Spanish language courses were added when the high school was founded. See New Hope Academy's curriculum pages.