Revamped Tech School Prospers

Once Nearly Written Off, It Now Has Waiting List

March 22, 1992|By Michael K. Burns | Michael K. Burns,Staff writer

There's a list of nearly 120 Harford eighth-graders waiting to be admitted to the school, even though students there don't wear blazers or elect horseback riding classes, and the admissions roll doesn't match up with the social register.

It's Harford Technical High School, where there was talk just a few years ago of closing the doors because of sagging enrollment -- not to mention the disparaging view thatit was a place for children who could not make it in the regular high schools.

Now the Bel Air school, which offers 19 career path programs thatinclude electronics, various construction trades, animal care, food preparation, nursing, animal care and cosmetology, has become a hot ticket in the high-tech world of work.

Some students there are looking for hands-on training with sophisticated equipment in order to find a marketable job; others are preparing to continue their technicaleducation in college.

"Students see the school is offering them real career options, not just a place to hang out for three or four years," says Harford Technical counselor Sandra Landbeck. "They want tocome here."

With only 150 openings for students entering ninth-grade classes this fall, and about 270 applications, the school is enjoying the fruits of an intensive promotion campaign in county middle schools.

"Letting them know that we are here and what we have to offer has been a major step in building enrollment," said Dale Neeper, program development coordinator.

The three-year high school expanded to a four-year school last September, with an initial freshman class of 100 winnowed from 150 applicants. That Class of '95 will add about 50 transfers from other schools for its sophomore year this fall.

Christopher Rogers wanted to study electronics, but had never heard of Harford Technical until he was steered there by a middle-schoolguidance counselor.

"It's really neat to see the different thingsyou can study here, that you couldn't get anywhere else," the Havre de Grace freshman said. Robotics and welding are two fields in which he discovered an interest at the school.

The only bad thing, he said, is his 70-minute bus ride each day, a fact of life for a school that draws students from the entire county.

While many of the state's vocational-technical high schools are struggling to fill their seats and shed the old "alternative education" image, Harford Technical has managed to excite county youngsters about the advantages of a technical education.

"Technical education is certainly catching on," Landbeck said, in part because of the growing demand for technically skilled workers that don't require a four-year college degree.

Also helping to sell Harford Technical is the new "Tech Prep" program being installed to link the high school with post-secondary training atHarford Community College, conveniently located across the street.

Dropping the old stigmatized "Vocational" label from the school name last year also helped.

By fall, Neeper said, at least two careerprograms should allow students to take community college classes forcredit and give graduates advanced placement in community college courses.

An advantage not obvious to eighth-graders is the smaller teacher-pupil ratio in many classes.

"Having more one-on-one teaching in small classes helped me get A's and B's in Algebra II this year, after I almost didn't pass Algebra in middle school," said freshmanErin Fitzgerald, of Joppatowne, who plans to study architecture in college.

Leaving the neighborhood school and friends was somewhat difficult, she said, "but it's worth it, because of the hands-on experience you can't get anywhere else."

She's also active in school activities, serving as student government treasurer, running cross country and track, playing oboe in the band and being manager of the boysbasketball team.

Selection to Harford Technical involves an interview, scrutiny of attendance records and work habits -- "essential qualities for the workplace" -- and an assessment of sincere "interest"in technical fields, Landbeck said. Some incoming students are tested to match capabilities with appropriate programs, she added.

Mosteighth-graders will have attended an open house at Harford Technicalwith parents, taken a tour of the school, and discussed the option at length with a guidance counselor before even applying, Landbeck said.

The first year, pupils take usual freshman courses, plus a series of three-week introductions to various technical fields.

The next three years mix technical career instruction with standard academic subjects, offering a work-experience option in the senior year, along with classes. Art, music and foreign languages are also offered aselectives.

"I like it here -- the kids are friendly and not snooty," said Jason Powers, a freshman from Abingdon.

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