Catonsville school to add environmental courses

October 15, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Kenneth Burch has had big plans for Western School of Technology for many years. Now those plans to turn the Baltimore County vocational-technical center into a comprehensive four-year high school are beginning to pan out.

The plan is to make the center a school for environmental studies open to high school students from throughout the county. Academic courses will be added to its technical program with both areas adapted to the school's environmental theme. Students will be able to choose an academic program, a technical program or courses from each area.

"We can truly produce a student who can go to college or go to work or do both," said Mr. Burch. "We hope that some of the students who really like the sciences will learn a skill."

The new approach also will reflect changes in education.

"The old philosophy that the vocational student goes to work is ended. We changed that internally a long time ago," said Mr. Burch.

Currently, vocational-technical students are separated from other students for half a day. They take vocational courses in four centers around the county, rather than in their home high schools. Mr. Burch's plan would change that.

"We're making [technical education] more open for a lot of students and will probably increase their chances of success by about 50 percent," he said. "And wouldn't it be nice if we produced much more interested students? We are going to try to attempt to nurture the idea that many of the things you do will be related to your interests."

Courses will cluster around natural, human and technological resources, said Mr. Burch, who has been at the center in Catonsville since it opened 22 years ago. He is in his fifth year as principal, having been a teacher there and the school's assistant principal.

He has proposed the change to Superintendent of Schools Stuart Berger, known to be a fan of magnet schools.

"He's been very enthusiastic," said Mr. Burch, who will ask for school board approval next month.

Mr. Burch's proposal is similar to one the school board approved last week to make the Central School of Technology on York Road a magnet school for arts and technology. That school, due to open next September, will be a center for the performing arts. The curriculum will include fine arts, theater, television, writing and technical courses such as welding, carpentry, cosmetology, accounting and data processing.

Mr. Burch wants to continue the school's technology courses, such as auto mechanics, plumbing, culinary arts and health sciences. These courses will, however, focus on environmental issues and skills. For instance, students in an automotive course would spend time learning about fuel emissions and their effects.

Students currently enrolled at the center will be able to complete their programs, most of which are two-year courses.

Traditionally, vo-tech students spend the equivalent of three periods a day at the school and take their other courses at one of eight high schools. Because they spend one period a day traveling, they are often unable to take enough academic courses to enter a four-year college, said Mr. Burch.

Students also experience divided loyalties, between schools and friends. And, coming from eight different high schools makes it nearly impossible to have a smooth transition between academic and vocational courses.

"Last year, our 10th- and 11th-graders had 27 different English teachers," said Mr. Burch.

If the board approves the plan, the comprehensive program will be open to about 400 freshmen and sophomores next year. The school's capacity is 640 students.

Mr. Burch also would like to change how things are taught.

"We don't plan to do seven periods a day with bells ringing all day," he said. "I've read too much about how little time we give the students. I'd like to address some of the issues that everybody says really make a difference to the students in classrooms. It may be my only chance."

Mr. Burch also plans to group teachers into teams, rather than departments. Teachers from different disciplines would coordinate what students are learning, so that English, math and carpentry courses, for example, would stress and reinforce the same lessons.

Making the technology center a full-time high school also will take more staff and space, along with extracurricular activities such as sports teams, student government, a newspaper, clubs and choosing a new name for the school.

Although Mr. Burch would not say how much he thought this expansion would cost, he said he hopes the costs will be minimal.

He already is trying out one of his ideas by having carpentry students build four new modular classrooms, each with space for about 25 students. Usually, the students build a house. The classrooms will be built for about one-third what it would cost to have professionals do the job, Mr. Burch said.

Mr. Burch also said he will be looking to the community for professional know-how and "sound advice as we develop the school." He's already received help from the Greater Baltimore Committee and others.

"I have found that anybody I've asked for help has been responsive," he said. "The environment seems to have everybody's attention."

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