Winters Mill set for first students

Visitors give high marks to $35.4 million facility

`It's going to be wonderful'

New high school features greenhouse, floating floor

Carroll County

August 25, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Winters Mill High School is ready for Wow Day.

For the rest of Carroll County's 39 schools and for students throughout Howard, Harford and Baltimore counties, tomorrow is simply the first day of school.

But for Winters Mill, Carroll's newest school, located just outside Westminster, tomorrow is the first first day. The distinction has prompted teachers and staff of the new school to nickname it "Wow Day."

"It's going to be wonderful," said Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream, who spent 16 years as an administrator of Westminster High School before accepting the top job at Winters Mill in 2000.

She left Westminster High 14 months ago to plan full time for Winters Mill.

"I just want to get students in the halls and start school," she said. "There have been a lot of hours and years of planning for this first day, and we just can't wait for it to get here."

Even though the school doesn't open for classes until tomorrow morning, several thousand visitors already have traipsed through the $35.4 million school's still-gleaming hallways.

There have been orientations and tours for the 600 ninth- and 10th-graders who will be Winters Mill's first occupants. (The school will add the remaining grades in successive years.)

Area business leaders have gotten their own tour of the new school. Even people who live in the area but have no children in the school system have stopped by for a peek.

"That really impressed me," Bream said. "The opening of this school is that exciting to people. It's been real neat to share. A lot of the people who came through said that if school were like this, they wouldn't mind coming back.

"And a lot of them said that if kids can't learn in this environment, they don't want to learn."

The conference center-style school - a twin of Eldersburg's Century High, which opened last August - has many features worthy of bragging, and Bream knows them all.

"This is our auditorium," she said, sweeping into the darkened theater during a tour last week with a new freshman and his grandmother.

"It's a performance-level auditorium. There are 150 dimmer switches on the lights. There's an elaborate catwalk system. Everything up in the sound booth is computerized. We're looking forward to doing some really nice things with the drama club here."

In addition to the auditorium - and there are colleges and universities that don't have as nice a performance space - Winters Mill boasts a TV studio where students eventually will broadcast televised morning announcements, a 4,000-square- foot greenhouse, a ceramics studio with two kilns and four pottery wheels, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium complete with "floating floor." (Three sheets of wood installed at different angles and layered between rubber strips give the floor a cushioned bounce that prevents athletes from getting shin splints, Bream explained.)

The school also has a cafe-like outdoor eating area, the county's first high school dance program and a long, high-ceilinged corridor that administrators call "Main Street," from which classrooms and common spaces branch off.

Technology is splashed throughout the school - big-screen computers in every classroom, inconspicuous department store-style surveillance cameras monitoring gym lockers and technology labs that offer everything from a flight simulator to a meteorology booth.

"This is the epitome of an integrated curriculum," Bream said, walking through the suite of technology labs where thick, appliance-quality extension cords dangle from the ceiling.

"You design it here, build it here and test it here with math, science and technology teachers all working together and using the same space."

Besides the impressive infrastructure, Winters Mill will offer new academic programs as well.

The school will have four academies - Arts, Humanities and Communication; Business and Information Management; Health, Human and Social Sciences; and Math, Science and Technology - in which students must take at least six career-focused credits to graduate.

Introduced to the county last year at Century High, the academies are part of an educational concept designed to shrink and focus the traditional high school into a place where students learn lessons that directly relate to their futures - and their next test.

Like Century High, Winters Mill will have an adviser program. The staff member will meet with the same group of students for 20 minutes a day for the duration of their high school careers.

Brad Parrish, 14, started his tour with Bream on Thursday morning nervous and shy. By the time the principal left Brad and his grandmother, Jerri Dull, with Brad's adviser, the ninth-grader was chattily describing all the things he liked about his new school.

He was contemplating the possibility of taking trumpet lessons in one of the school's acoustically correct music rooms, where the music instructor is a recent graduate of Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

He could see himself playing basketball on that fancy floor. And topping his list of great things was the high-tech computer-assisted-design lab, where students will learn technical drawing first on desks that tilt upward into drafting tables and then on the computer.

"I love computers and that CAD lab, that's what I'd like to go into," said Brad, who attended East Middle last year.

"But this whole school is great. I like the high ceilings. I like the view from the windows. I think it's a good idea to put cameras where the lockers are. My older sister goes to Westminster High School and when she sees this place, she's going to be jealous."

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