Arundel seeks grant to develop learning `clusters'

Students could choose from five career paths

January 18, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

County school officials are seeking a $147,000 state grant so that two high schools can begin to develop smaller learning "clusters" centered on career paths and another school can explore the idea.

Glen Burnie and North County high schools have been looking at the concept for a year, and Arundel High School administrators have expressed interest in it, said Thomas E. Miller, the county school system's director of career and technology education.

The idea is to restructure classes around five career groupings: arts and communications; health and human services; information technology; engineering/mechanics technology; and business, management and finance.

The grant proposal will be presented at tomorrow's school board meeting.

"The point is to work to make instruction more relevant to students' lives and the world of work, so kids can answer the question, `Why do I have to know this stuff?' " Miller said.

The grant would be used to pay 55 teachers-- 25 each from Glen Burnie and North County high schools and five from Arundel High -- to modify course curricula for the cluster concept during the summer.

"The biggest complaint we get from teachers is, `We've got a curriculum to teach and not enough time to modify what we're doing,' " Miller said.

Glen Burnie High first

Clusters could be in use at Glen Burnie High next school year, and North County High plans to follow.

North County Principal Patricia Gronkiewicz said the introduction of clusters depends on the starting date for a major construction project at her school.

Arundel High is starting to look at the clusters concept.

Miller said the proposed restructuring is not an attempt to dilute the school curriculum.

The freshman year essentially would remain unchanged, but as students moved through high school, they would be able to focus on broad career areas, the director said.

"By no means are we saying that you've got to make up your mind by 10th grade that you have to be a nurse," Miller said. "The idea is to try to get kids a little bit more hooked into a broad area of career interest and motivate them."

All students still would take basic academic courses to meet graduation requirements, but Miller said some classes would be modified to better fit into a career cluster.

"We're trying to bring a focus into a student's life at a much earlier time in their life," Gronkiewicz said.

Students in an English class in the health and human services cluster, for example, might be assigned to write an essay about leading health pioneers, Miller said.

Varying abilities

He said he envisions clusters including students of varying abilities interested in a range of careers.

The health and human services cluster might have students wanting to be teachers, doctors or nurse's aides.

"The intent is to have a full range of opportunities for kids, from gifted and talented right on down the line," Miller said.

In Maryland, the cluster concept has gained popularity in recent years.

Carroll County used cluster groupings in the design of a high school scheduled to open next year.

Montgomery County's Montgomery Blair High School, which opened a new campus last year, and Kent Island High School, which opened last year in Queen Anne's County, were built according to a cluster model.

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