New high school will have clusters of subjects

May 18, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

River Hill village homeowners are not only pioneers of Columbia's newest community, but soon their teen-age children will experience the county's newest concept in education.

Daniel Jett, instructional director of Howard County high schools, presented plans for innovative educational programs such as clustering similar subjects in designated wings of River Hill High School at the village association meeting Monday night.

Mr. Jett also discussed the layout of the 1,400-student high school, a $27 million facility being constructed off Route 108 that is scheduled to open in the fall.

"I think you'll like this. It's a beauty," Dr. Jett told the River Hill village board and about 15 residents. "I think it will be an award-winner for the architect, too."

For its first two years, the school will be used largely to house the student body and staff from Wilde Lake High School, which will be demolished next month and rebuilt. The school district will be adjusted once the new Wilde Lake High is ready and the demographics of the developing River Hill village, Columbia's 10th and final community, take shape.

River Hill High will not have traditional departments such as English, science and social studies. Rather, the school will be organized by "clusters" where interrelated fields of study will be centralized. For example, the humanities cluster will house most English and language arts, social studies and foreign language classes and some art and music classes. Another section of the school will house all classes for science, mathematics, technology, computers, home economics and business.

"There is no school like this anywhere," Dr. Jett said. "There's a lot of interest in what this says educationally for the future."

The purpose of clustering is to more fully integrate subjects that have connections so that students won't think of each field as a separate discipline, Dr. Jett said.

A common teacher planning area and technology resource facilities will be provided in each cluster to foster creativity and help educators coordinate instruction.

Village board member Joseph Suter said he is intrigued by the concept, but has some questions about how the school's curriculum will be developed.

"My education was in Europe. I'm really old-fashioned when it comes to classes," said Mr. Suter, who attended school in the Netherlands. "I think it's very exciting. I'm not familiar with the approach, but I have to keep an open mind."

Freshmen will have their own section where they will take most courses to help them make the transition from middle school to high school. Dr. Jett said ninth-graders traditionally haven't received the attention they need. Parents generally spend an anxious summer when their children are about to enter ninth grade, he said.

"Our view is that the youngsters are not much different in September than in June. But as a school, we tend to have expectations beyond that," Dr. Jett said.

River Hill High will provide a transition "in a measured, caring way," he said.

The high school, which is being built next to Clarksville Elementary School on 50 acres donated by the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, will be a 232,000-square-foot, two-story building with an auditorium seating 750, a smaller adjoining theater and stadium built into a bowl-shaped depression by Route 108.

"It's going to be a beautiful school," said Mr. Suter, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. "I like the layout very much. My wife and I are active in the performing arts. I think this auditorium will be very nice for us and will greatly benefit the community."

The school also will have a 300-seat "technology magnet program" that will draw students from throughout school districts west of Route 29. Students in the program could take technical courses and work with professionals and educators in selected fields to help prepare for employment, technical school or community college or for a four-year degree in math, science or engineering.

River Hill High and a new Eastern High School, which is scheduled to open in 1996, will be the county's ninth and 10th high schools. Dr. Jett said school administrators expect an increase of 4,000 high school students in the system over the next five years.

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