Lessons for the future Howard County: Need for third technology school may reflect new student pragmatism.

September 11, 1996

APPLICATIONS FOR the technology magnet programs at Howard County's new River Hill and Long Reach high schools were so overwhelming that the concept may be expanded next year to Oakland Mills High. That's a fine idea. The interest makes you wonder, though, whether the county in the past failed to sufficiently recognize student interest in what used to be called vocational education. Then again, it could be that high school students today are more pragmatic about careers and are deciding earlier what they want to do and what skills they need.

A significant factor is that the new courses aren't the same as those offered at Howard's old School of Technology, which is undergoing a $2.8 million renovation. The old school taught auto mechanics, cosmetology and other courses that may have actually repulsed students who wanted a more academically oriented education. New high-tech courses such as biotechnology and human services attract students who see their relationship to future jobs.

More than 600 students signed up for the tech-mag classes at River Hill and Long Reach. The unexpected high interest has had the Board of Education considering alternatives to meet the demand next year. The board has wisely rejected a proposal to have students transfer to the magnet programs after their sophomore year. Not many students would look forward to transferring from a school after spending their first two years there. It makes more sense to try to spread the magnet programs among three high schools where students may spend their entire four years.

The renovated School of Technology will reopen as the Howard County Applications and Research Laboratory, where students will get to practice technical skills. But Howard is not alone in trying to accommodate the greater number of students interested in a high school education that both prepares them for college and gives them practical skills they could immediately use to enter the work world. The Maryland Department of Education says just about every school system in the state is making similar changes to their vo-tech programs.

They're doing what needs to be done. Today's students don't want a "trade school." They understand they will need a combination of skills to find work in the 21st century.

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