Giddiness fills new school

Windsor Mill Middle's technology, bright decor spreads an energetic vibe

August 23, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

Courtney Scott is so excited about her new middle school that she has been roaming the halls every day - even though classes do not start until next week.

"This is my floor," the 11-year-old seventh-grader said one afternoon this week, gesturing to the classrooms equipped with computers and TV screens at Windsor Mill Middle School. Courtney has spent the past few days helping teachers set up at the school, the first middle school that the county has built in 22 years.

At Windsor Mill Middle, administrators hope that high-tech facilities such as radio and television studios, wireless Internet access and televised morning announcements will prepare pupils for the 21st century and engage youngsters during the crucial middle school years.

This week, as teachers tacked up decorations and picked up keys and class lists, Principal Debbie Phelps led Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and other officials on a tour of the airy hallways of the $30.4 million school. Windsor Mill is designed to relieve overcrowding at other middle schools in the fast-growing Liberty Road corridor, including Old Court Middle, Southwest Academy and Deer Park Magnet Middle School, administrators said. As of Monday, about 520 pupils had enrolled in Windsor Mill, Phelps said.

When pupils step through the front door of the new school Monday, they will find themselves in an atrium under a domed ceiling with doorways marked "Dance," "Dining" and "Administration." Concentric yellow circles ring across the floors, as if, Phelps said, someone dropped a stone into an imaginary pool of water directly under the dome.

"Having worked with middle school students for so many years, I know that there are many visual learners out there," Phelps said. "I wanted things that would be able to grab them visually."

The school has high ceilings, large windows and interior painted moss green, violet and butter yellow. Students will sit at sleek gray-and-black desks, and teachers will be able to store materials in rolling podiums and desks, enabling them to quickly reconfigure the classroom.

"Look around, look how bright it is in here," said seventh-grade math teacher Nicole Bridges. "In this atmosphere, how can you not feel excited about learning?"

"You catch the vibe and the energy from everyone," said seventh-grade world cultures teacher Kulsoom Khan.

After a welcome luncheon Monday, Phelps asked the seven teachers who had created class Web sites to stand and be recognized. "We want 100 percent participation," Phelps said.

Web sites for each class are just one way that the school will prepare pupils to use technology competently. Each classroom will eventually include four student computers. Teachers will be able to pull up images from the Internet on their computers and project them on large screens.

Even in Family and Consumer Science, as home economics is now called, kitchens will feature computers where pupils can research ingredients and nutrition information. In technology education, children will study architecture and engineering, as well as produce radio and television broadcasts, Phelps says. A humming computer closet is crammed with coils of blue wire.

But the point of all of the technology, Phelps said, is to help pupils succeed. The school's three computer labs are decorated with pennants and graduation gowns from colleges. The Media Center - or Smart Zone, as teachers call it - features wireless Internet and displays a couple of books about the principal's son, swimmer Michael Phelps, who won eight medals at the 2004 Olympics.

Upstairs in the art studio, art teacher Harold Smith acknowledged feeling a little anxious, as he sorted through posters and paints before heading to a meeting. He said that he is looking forward to seeing many of his former pupils from his days teaching at Winfield and Dogwood elementary schools, two of Windsor Mills' feeder schools.

"I'm just happy to be in a nice large room where everything works," Smith said. He rubbed his palms together as he discussed his plans for a contest to design the school mascot in the first two weeks of classes.

Along with art teacher Emily Hall, Smith had just finished creating a series of posters highlighting the school's values with photos of and quotes from pupils who participated in a summer leadership camp.

A poster titled "Success" includes this quote from an anonymous eighth-grader: "I would like people to have a good impression of me when they first see me. I also want them to have respect for me, just like I will have respect for them."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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