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Quaker values moved educator to open two schools

Sunday - 2/24/2013, 6:00am  ET

breiling (Frederick News Post/Sam Yu)
Annette Breiling stands outside a building named in her honor at the Friends Meeting School on Green Valley Road. (Frederick News-Post/Sam Yu)

IJAMSVILLE -- Annette Breiling wanted to teach from the time she was a child. Now, at 72, retired after founding two Quaker schools, she can look back on a life of accomplishments in education.

Breiling's positive experience with Quaker education at George School in Pennsylvania sold her on the curriculum, which emphasizes academic rigor, she said, and prods students to reflect on their role in the world and how they might improve it.

Breiling attended a Quaker college. As a parent, she sent her three daughters to Friends schools. The words Quaker and Friends are used interchangeably, she said.

Quaker schools focus on nurturing mind, body and spirit, Breiling said, whereas public schools are limited to the mind and body.

Friends schools use the acronym SPICES for simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship of the environment and the human body. The schools focus on monthly spiritual themes; students and staff reflect on these and other values, while being respectful of many religious traditions, Breiling said.

Breiling worked 12 years for Montgomery County Public Schools -- as a teacher, testing and gifted and talented coordinator, elementary reading specialist, educational diagnostician and parent involvement specialist.

Breiling's mother raised her with Quaker values. After her mother died of cancer in the mid-1980s, Breiling was going through her belongings when she found a note in a book, quoting William Penn, "Death cannot kill what never dies."

"I felt that her spirit lived on with me," Breiling said, "and I felt called to try to continue to keep these values alive for other children."

In 1985, Breiling opened Friends Elementary School, dedicated to the memory of her mother, in a church building in Montgomery County.

The school soon outgrew its quarters, and after six years, the church wanted its space back.

FES merged with Sandy Spring Friends School in 1993, and Breiling worked as the associate head for planning for two years.

A month after the merger, Breiling's father died and left her a sizable inheritance.

"I did not want the money for myself," she said. "I wanted it used to make the world a better place."

A committee was formed to create Friends Meeting School in Ijamsville, which is dedicated to her father's memory. The school first opened in Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.

"We had 13 students ranging from 4 years old to sixth grade on our opening day in 1997," Breiling said. "They were our 'lucky 13.'"

The school now serves more than 100 students from pre-K through grade 12. This year, it will graduate its first senior class.

Karen McKinney enrolled her twin kindergartners at FMS because of the school's reputation, she said, and its guiding principles of seeking and speaking truth and love.

"The school has a kind, loving environment, and if kids are upset with each other, they sit at a table and talk it out, and that's great," McKinney said.

"One of my greatest satisfactions," Breiling said, "is hearing stories of young people who feel their experience at one of my schools has had a positive impact on them."

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