Science hub proposed

Schools seeks to make Essex site a STEM academy

July 12, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

A group of Essex schools could soon become the site of a new program to promote science and technology education.

Baltimore County school officials submitted a proposal last month to the state Department of Education to create an academy dedicated to "STEM" - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - at Chesapeake High School and its feeder schools.

"The idea was to build as strong a program there as we can - one to make Chesapeake a star," said H.B. Lantz, executive director of science, mathematics, engineering and technology for county schools.

The state budget includes about $1.5 million for STEM academies, said William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Education Department. The money would be used to help start science education and engineering programs at sites across the state, he said.

"This is a modest but initial attempt to try and bolster math, science and technology education in this state," Reinhard said.

Carroll and Howard county school officials said yesterday that they are considering applying to the program.

Baltimore County officials chose Chesapeake because test scores and other factors demonstrate that it is "really in high need," Lantz said. "It's a community where we really just need to, frankly, raise expectations."

Chesapeake is a magnet school with four academies that focus on arts and communication, science and technology, leadership and business, Lantz said. Chesapeake would continue to be open to students outside its attendance area, he said.

Through Baltimore County's STEM Academy, Chesapeake's graduation requirements would increase to four credits each of math, science and technology education. The school system now requires three credits of math, three of science and one of technology education.

Some of the work would begin much earlier. Children whose elementary and middle schools feed into Chesapeake - including Deep Creek and Middle River middle schools - would also start taking enhanced engineering and technology education programs as early as third grade, such as one to encourage young inventors, Lantz said.

Lantz estimated that the proposal would cost county schools more than $1 million to put into place.

The proposal incorporates several ideas, including the change in graduation requirements, that Superintendent Joe A. Hairston has been discussing for several years, Lantz said.

"The superintendent sees this as a model for all the high schools across the county at some time," he said. The school system would also develop courses that would integrate elements from other courses, with math courses supporting science and vice versa, Lantz said.

Some freshmen throughout the county are enrolled in physics and algebra classes that complement each other in that way, the director said.

In Chesapeake's special classes, called e-biology or e-algebra, students would also use new technology such as mapping software and electronic data acquisition, Lantz said. Each high school student would be assigned a graphing calculator and either a personal digital assistant or a laptop computer, he said.

"If we have a lot of digital resources that are part of the coursework that are available to students 24-7, they would be able to access them from other venues - school, home, wherever," Lantz said.

In addition to after-school and summer enrichment programs and science fairs, seniors would also conduct a "capstone" research project, Lantz said. He said the proposal also calls for community partnerships with area colleges and universities to offer classes at Chesapeake that would allow older children to earn college credit.

If the program is approved, Lantz said, the school system hopes to begin putting it in place this fall, but the schools would not be able to change students' schedules until the following school year.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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