Visit to private school opens eyes, hearts

April 07, 2008

The Unselds’ School is a no-frills private school, with green Pergo floors and dividers instead of walls between some of the classrooms. But there is an unmistakable energy coursing through the building. You can hear it in the sounds of the choir practicing “My Girl” down the hall. You can smell it in the fresh baked brownies prepared weekly by NBA basketball-great turned great baker Wes Unseld. You can see it in the students’ faces when they learn how to plant a seed, take care of a rabbit, or make a budget.

It’s the kind of place that inspires learning and serves as an example to inspire future teachers. That’s why Janet Medina, associate professor of Education, took more than 40 McDaniel students in the course “Teaching and Learning in Diverse Society” to the school on April 1.

“I’m a big believer in experiential learning,” says Medina. “I’m interested in how students feel and think about things. I hope that what they take away excites them about teaching.”

The school, run for 30 years by Connie Unseld, a College trustee, her husband Wes and daughter Kim, holds classes for infants through 8th graders. Many of the students come from Baltimore’s inner city.

The Education students observed classes in every grade level and spent time talking with the kids, many of whom knew exactly where they wanted to go to college (Brown and Morgan State topped the list) and what careers they wanted to pursue (they ranged from doctor to police officer to deep sea diver).

Sophia Dominguez ’11 got so excited about the school that she expressed an interest in interviewing Unseld for mentoring and to hash out ideas for starting her own school. Her excitement was so infectious that another student offered to teach in Dominguez’s school.

All Education minors are required to take the course, which focuses on psychology and diversity unless they take its sister course “First Year Seminar: Learning in a Diverse Society.” The students go on to major in their subject area, minor in Education, and receive their teacher certification upon graduation and completion of student teaching. McDaniel alumna Kelley Diamond ’03 now works at Unselds’ through a federally funded program with students who need extra help in reading and math.

“The population is very different here than it was in Carroll County where I did student teaching,” says Diamond. “I feel spoiled because I’m learning as I’m teaching. I’m constantly getting refreshed.”

The school is the brainchild of Connie Unseld, a former Baltimore City schoolteacher. Upon deciding that she didn’t like many aspects of the public school system, she purchased the building on South Hilton Street to start her own school.

“I decided I wanted to change the system,” said Unseld.

And change she did. As long as they maintain their grade-point average at Unselds’ School, the 150 students are encouraged to participate in activities such as drama, basketball, cheerleading, chess, and chorus. They learn etiquette and practice public speaking on the stage of a church down the street.

“It’s really cool what they’re doing here,” said Megan Giroux ’11. “Ms. Unseld wanted to teach students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity for an education like this.”

Medina says that most of the students were still excited about the trip days later, and many expressed a desire to return to do an internship during Jan Term.