Baltimore County

Digital curriculum drives way at new Mays Chapel Elementary

Near the front door of the new, state-of-the-art Mays Chapel Elementary School is a glass window display called "The Evolution of Technology," a mini-museum that includes an Underwood manual typewriter.

"I know what one is," said third-grader Maia Quinn, touring the school with her father, interim PTA president, Michael Quinn. The Quinns were among the many families that filed through the school Monday afternoon, all eager to see the building at 12250 Roundwood Road in Timonium.


Would she know how to use a typewriter?

"I guess," Maia, 9, said with uncertainty in her voice.


The typewriter and an old Apple Macintosh Classic II computer monitor next to it stood out like sore thumbs at Mays Chapel, one of 10 Baltimore County public schools that are so-called "Lighthouse" schools, part of a pilot program called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, or STAT. The program is designed to phase in a digital curriculum over the next five years.

Mays Chapel is the only one of the schools that will pilot the program in kindergarten through fifth grade. The others will only pilot it in first through third grade, he said.

Classroom boards are linked to projectors and equipped with "smart" pens that allow teachers to tap and drag on the board.

"I haven't played with it too much yet," said Heather Mills, a first-grade teacher. "I'm a little nervous to put it in the kids' hands, but I'm also excited."

Every one of the school's 580 students in kindergarten through fifth grade will have a hybrid laptop-tablet device, in which the screen swivels to become a tablet. Teachers will have them, too.

Twenty percent of the library collection in the media center is digital and a room off the media center is equipped for students to broadcast "live feeds" of morning announcements. Principal Steve Coco said the faculty is still figuring out other uses for the room.

One room the school won't have is a computer lab. They're becoming a thing of the past.

"There isn't a need. We don't have one," said Katie Cox, a STAT teacher and technology liaison. Cox was one of the teachers who also opened West Towson Elementary in 2010 and it didn't have a computer lab, either, using a mobile laptop cart instead. "It's just not the way kids learn, sitting in rows and staring at a screen."


At Mays Chapel Elementary, students aren't even assigned to the same desk every day. The desks and other furniture look different and the classrooms are "adaptable," Cox said. A digital curriculum will free students from traditional learning methods and facilitate personalized instruction, allowing teachers to tailor class lessons to students' individual needs, Cox said.

The school's health suite, three times the size of a typical school nurse's office, features four infirmary beds called resting areas and a private exam room and can be used to treat conditions, including asthma and seizures.

"I have the space. I have the equipment," said Katie Lanier, the school nurse. She said county Emergency Medical Services personnel had a walk-through last week.

"I think they were overwhelmed," she said.

Tricia Guildener, of Lutherville, was impressed as she toured the school with her son, Gavin, a first-grader.

"He's going to be teaching me things," she said.

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But for Quinn, 64, the interim PTA president and a lawyer, the experience wasn't so much different than when he went to school.

"In some ways, it's very different, but in some ways, it's very much the same," he said. "The bottom line is, we're still trying to learn the same things. We just have different tools."

Many students took their new digital toys for granted and were more interested in exploring the building.

"They all just want to get in their rooms," Cox said.

And for all the fuss over new technology, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers Monday was Buster the School Bus, a remote-controlled vehicle with a smiling face that is used to teach kindergartners about bus safety.

Cox mused about the changing face of technology and said, "You never know what's next."


But as children crowded around the toy bus, she observed with a smile, "Buster the Bus is always going to work."