Deb Abraham Spalding

The former elementary school in Sabillasville has closed its final chapter as an elementary school and started a whole new book as a Frederick County Classical Charter School. On August 23, 2022, Alisha Yocum, president of the board of directors of the new Sabillasville Environmental School (SES), cut the ribbon to signify its official opening, while Frederick County Public School (FCPS) officials, school staff members, students, parents, and community members cheered. 

After the ceremony, a picnic was held, farm animals were available for petting, a kickball game was underway, children were playing, and food and fellowship were enjoyed by all. 

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was very special, with a vocal performance by Katie Brennan, the Pledge of Allegiance by SES students, touching remarks by Yocum, and FCPS comments by David Bass, with closing remarks by the school’s principal, Dawn Getzandanner.

Over the years, when the former elementary school was, more than once, slated to be closed by the FCPS Board of Education, the community rallied to prevent its closure. This time, the FCPS was more determined, but so was the drive of Sabillasville Elementary School parent Alisha Yocum, SES volunteers, SES parents, and the collective community.

For the past three years, a series of important decisions were made that created stepping stones to a new future for the school. Vital members of the Board of Education refused to give up on the school and partnered with the SES volunteers to create a new path within the framework of a Frederick County Charter School. 

Alisha Yocum’s children, Bryce (2nd grade) and Eli (5th grade), are third-generation students at the school.

Yocum said she is, “Relieved! It’s been three years of hard work to get here. It’s exciting to have everyone coming out to celebrate.”

Yocum has steered the project to allow the spirit of the old Sabillasville Elementary School to continue, with even more improvements and opportunities now available to all of Frederick County’s students, not just the Sabillasville feeder pattern. 

The charter school, home of the Honeybees, will open its doors to 161 excited students in August, with 23 in a grade, and a waitlist of 15-20 students per grade in grades K-6 (7th and 8th grades will be added in the second and third years of operation).

Sabillasville Elementary School was often called FCPS’s “best-kept secret,” especially by former students. Yocum claims that the environmental charter school model will be even better, with more hands-on instruction and plenty of instruction outside the classroom. There’s even a greenhouse on the property that provides a year-round opportunity for students to “dig in the dirt and get dirty,” and “apply what the student learns in math and science to what they do with their hands.”

The classical approach is a well-rounded approach to history in chronological order. For example, in kindergarten students learn about cavemen. As a student progresses through the grades, they’ll understand what happened historically to support what happens next. There’s a complete connection of what the student is learning—like learning the Renaissance in third grade and connecting art, music, agriculture, the environment, and history that is based around this period. Data has shown charter school students are well prepared to transition into high school.

The charter learning approach is well aligned with a special-needs learner. It’s important to note that any special services found in the FCPS school system are also provided here. The small classroom size and the hands-on approach are integrated, and the special-needs students are not segregated from the main classroom.

Yocum explained, “With a charter school, it’s run by a board of directors who are making the decisions for the school. There are still FCPS requirements that we have to follow.”

The board of directors is comprised of volunteers, most of whom don’t have students at the school, and even some who live out of state, but they lend professional expertise to the project. Members include President Alisha Yocum; Vice President Robert Koontz; Treasurer Jeffrey Finch; Secretary Gary Cox; and Members-At-Large Shelby Green, Nancy Keller, and Christine McCauslin.

“Thank you!” Yocum said to the community. “They [supportive community members] were here from start to finish with whatever was needed, whether it be helping with a fundraiser, donating money, or putting in time. And, when I say community, it’s not just here, we had people responding from across the county, across the state, and even out of state. It shows that what we are doing is unique, and the community stands behind all the benefits that will come out of it.” 

Yocum has been a driving force behind the charter school, but she is quick to point out that while she contributed a lot to this destination, there were individuals who were equally important, vital, and committed in its success.

You can still be a part of this community project! Donate to the school, volunteer your time, weed the gardens in the greenhouse, or help a student (some vetting required). Reach out to the SES Parent Teacher Organization by calling the school at 240-236-6000.

Alisha Yocum, SES Board of Directors President, cuts the official ribbon,  marking the opening of the new Sabillasville Environmental School (SES).

Photo Cover by Danielle Jackson

Anne Beck (top) and Van and Charlotte Mullins pet Precious the pony, owned by Shiloh Jackson, an incoming first-grade student at SES.

Photo by Danielle Jackson

Makenzie, Brody, Landon, Mark, and Kinsley Breeden are shown at the Sabillasville Environmental School Grand Opening picnic.

Photos by Deb Abraham Spalding

These kids could be heard squealing with delight and yelling, “We love school! We love school!” as they played in the cafeteria/gym area of the school.

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