Young designers find their blueprint taking shape in living color

NEIGHBORS

March 13, 2001|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SOME CHILDREN at Oakland Mills Middle School made a difference in their classroom, but in a way you might not expect. They drew up plans in class to rebuild the technical education room - and now their concept is becoming a reality.

"The kids have been excited. They like to poke their heads through the windows to watch the progress," said Andre Weichbrod, the school's tech ed teacher.

The pupils redesigned the classroom in the fall as a class assignment after Weichbrod gave them a choice of designing a house or updating the tech ed room.

"They picked my room, even though it was more work," he said.

The assignment was meant to be hypothetical, an exercise in the design process. "When we were doing this, we never thought it would actually get done," said Jeanette Felton, one of four eighth-grade members of the design team.

The room was built as an industrial arts workshop in 1972, with plenty of open space for machinery. Industrial arts has evolved into technical education with the advent of a new design tool - the computer. Unfortunately, computers and sawdust do not mix.

"Now you need a clean classroom area for computers, to protect them," Weichbrod said. But he still needed space for the sawdust-spewing machinery, too.

Principal Carl Perkins also was concerned about coupling computers with machinery. "Those two don't match up well," he said. "But they have to coexist."

There was also a sense of urgency. The tech ed department had just received five new Dell computers, thanks to a technology grant.

Perkins knew that he had to come up with an idea to protect the computers. What he did not know was that Jeanette and classmates Jennie Burt, Brett Strand and Tom Murphy were down the hall, working on a supposedly hypothetical, but very practical, solution to the problem.

The team formulated a plan to completely reconfigure the room, creating a work area for the machinery and a classroom area for computers and desks. Weichbrod required them to price all the materials and equipment, and gave them a hypothetical budget.

The group drew up plans on graph paper and built a scale model of the renovated room, which included miniature desks, work surfaces and a new wall. They also managed to keep the plan well under the proposed budget.

As luck - or fate - would have it, Perkins dropped by the classroom one day and saw the group's project. "The next thing I know," said Weichbrod, "he brought in some contractors to go over the plans with me, and voila!"

Perkins obtained funds from the school system's minor renovation budget and got the project in gear within four weeks of his fateful visit. The room is nearly finished and looks almost exactly the way the pupils planned it.

Perkins has no misgivings that pupils, rather than professionals, redesigned the room. "Who better to do it that than the people who are using it?" he said.

Visual conversations

The Artists' Gallery in Columbia is featuring an exhibit of portraits by local photographer Denee Barr, "Conversation: Photographs and Mixed Media."

Barr, of Long Reach, said the photographs convey her relaxed style of portraiture. "Most people I photograph feel very comfortable and relaxed, doing what they want to be doing," she said. And what they are doing is chatting, either with the others in the photograph or with the photographer herself.

Barr named each piece after the conversation during the shoot, with topics ranging from camping to hair. She refers to the images as "works in progress" and presents them in a range of styles on various types of paper, including handmade paper.

Barr's work will be on display through March 30. The gallery, at 10227 Wincopin Circle, is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Information: 410-740-8249.

Parting words

The parochial schools that Steve Zagami, principal of Jeffers Hill Elementary School, attended as a child did not offer technical education or industrial arts. Still, he managed to develop a knack for home-improvement projects on his own.

He recalls one project that he took on in 1985, thinking it would be a breeze. "I installed baseboard molding throughout my apartment," he said.

Zagami began the task expecting it to take a week or two, and, while he had the proper tools, it took more than a month of tedious labor. "It was a headache," he said.

But his exacting work paid off, and Zagami was pleased with the results. So what did he do years later, when he moved to an apartment that needed baseboard molding? "I had a carpenter come and do it," Zagami said.

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