Technical program might expand High schools see high rate of interest in magnet venture

March 27, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Even before the Howard County schools' new technology-magnet program begins its first year, school officials already are talking about expanding the venture beyond two high schools.

Officials are discussing that possibility after recently receiving a flurry of registrations from next year's freshman class.

At least 572 students have enrolled in the new program, to begin September at the River Hill and Long Reach high schools. Officials set a tentative registration deadline of March 15, but applications continue to trickle into the office and still are being accepted.

While the total number of registrations is in line with projections of 300 technology-magnet students at each school, four-fifths of the enrollees are incoming freshmen.

School officials say they can accommodate next fall's freshman class, but they may have to expand the program or tighten admissions requirements -- if high numbers of incoming freshmen enroll in future years.

"If the program exceeds projections, the county may be prepared to make it available in another high school or two," said Donald Lewis, the program's supervisor.

Patti P. Caplan, a schools spokeswoman, said the county would rather expand the program than set stricter admissions standards. The only prerequisite for students entering ninth grade in the technology-magnet program is that they are prepared to take a first-year algebra course.

"The whole premise upon what this program is based is that everybody who wants to participate in this program can participate," Ms. Caplan said. "We would hate to give that up."

The new, academics-based program replaces more traditional vocational-education programs that were offered at the Howard County School of Technology. Those programs, acclaimed in the past, have seen declining enrollment in recent years, Ms. Caplan said.

Officials will close the technology school on Route 108 this June and use the building for some technology-magnet classes and labs.

Designers of the new program said they wanted to improve the system's technology education efforts -- both for students planning to attend college and for those planning to enter the work force after high school.

Ms. Caplan said 453 of the 572 students enrolled so far are eighth-graders who will make up the technology-magnet program's first freshman class.

In addition, 87 have enrolled as sophomores and 30 as juniors in the fall.

The program is not equipped for a 12th-grade class in its first year. Two students who will be seniors in the fall have registered anyway, but it is not certain whether they will be able to attend. 'Clusters' of opportunities

The 572 registrants represent about 5.3 percent of next year's projected high school population. Ms. Caplan said school officials launched an aggressive campaign to promote the program.

Their message reached Dustin Haralson, 14, an eighth-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School.

"Basically, this is an opportunity to go to a school with a technology-oriented program, because I'm into computers and things like that," said Dustin, who wants to be a computer programmer.

The program was developed to prepare students for an array of professions.

It will be divided into a university strand for college-bound students and a career-tech strand for those planning to work after high school. Courses will be offered to both types of students in five subject "clusters" -- biotechnology; communication; construction and manufacturing; energy, power and transportation; and human services. These clusters will prepare students for futures as chefs, hotel managers, automobile mechanics, engineers, laboratory technicians, physicians, graphic designers and other careers.

A group of Mount View Middle School students earlier this week said they were sold on the program's sales pitch. A range of ambitions

Christie Caton wants to be an architect, D. J. Holston dreams of working in television production, Alex Dummett aims to become a biologist and Kelly Magruder has her sights set on fashion designing.

The four eighth-graders, all 13, said they were excited about the program, although they expressed uncertainty about what they will encounter in River Hill classrooms next year.

"It's got a lot of questions to it," said Christie. "You don't know if you'll get higher scores or lower scores on the SAT. Or if they'll cram so much information into your head that you'll be confused. But I'm willing to try it."

Said D. J., "It's still a public school. It's going to be a little bit harder, maybe, but I'm going to be learning a little bit more."

Fran Dummett, a counselor at Mount View, said 30 of the 200 eighth-grade students at her school enrolled in the program, including Alex, her son.

She said she believes in the new program, although she said she is sorry that the School of Technology is being closed. She said many improvements have been made in developing the technology-magnet program -- especially a provision to include all students who want to enroll.

"Howard County has been creative, flexible," Ms. Dummett said. "I don't think we have all the answers yet, but I think they're going to come."

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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