Interest in science mushrooms Classroom space is at a premium CARROLL COUNTY EDDUCATION

The sign outside the door still says "Carpentry," but the students are mounting praying mantises instead of curio cabinets.

Instead of the screech of a table saw, a steady hum from the fish tank filters provides the background noise.


Science courses are so hot at South Carroll High School that students are taking two or three at a time. And the school is scrambling to create more classroom space with the amenities science labs usually need, such as water and gas.

The trend is countywide. South Carroll is the first to start converting space for science, but other schools are also asking, said Lester Surber, supervisor of school facilities.


"I do think we have seen a dramatic growth in kids taking science in the last few years," said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education. In general, students are taking more academic courses to fill out their elective credits.

"What it comes right down to is, kids don't have to take those classes," Mr. McDowell said. "Once you get beyond the science you need for graduation, you're looking at students taking science for college, or because the subject matter excites them, or whatever."

South Carroll High science chairman Robert Foor-Hogue said that countywide, Carroll's juniors and seniors take more science than their peers nationally. While at least 90 percent of upperclassmen here are taking at least one science class, the average nationwide is about 30 percent, he said.

In the past year, Carroll's total of high school science class sections went from 227 to 238, Mr. McDowell said. Since the 1991-1992 school year, enrollment in science courses has gone from 4,868 to 5,619 students, he said. In that time, the county's secondary school student population has grown by about 200.

"So, the growth in science enrollment far exceeds that," Mr. McDowell said.

When the carpentry teacher at South Carroll High left for a job in Pennsylvania this summer, Mr. Foor-Hogue was happy to move his science research courses into the room, even if it's only temporary.

"This is actually close to ideal," Mr. Foor-Hogue said of the room. "Part of being a good scientist is being resourceful."

South Carroll junior David Clark is taking "Science Research" and "Chemistry II" this year. Many of his friends are taking three courses.


"The science courses are so varied that they're just trying to get a good feel for all the sciences," he said.

And, he said, word of mouth around the school is that the science classes are a lot of fun.

"You have to do a lot of work," David said. "It's just that you get to do work you want to do."

Students especially enjoy the environmental work they can do, such as research on the wetlands that are literally in the school's back yard.

One day last week, the students were getting ready to go out and look for touch-me-not plants, whose pods expel seeds when touched. In another corner of the room, some students were brewing an extract out of the touch-me-nots, also called jewelweed.

This is not purely academic. These students had encountered some poison ivy while foraging through the woods, and Mr. Foor-Hogue suggested the brew as a tried-and-true folk remedy for the itchy rash.


Mr. Foor-Hogue loves the amenities in the shop.

And the room is close to the back of the school, where the students often trudge out to the wetlands and forested area to collect samples of bugs to impale on pins back in the lab.

One of them, something Mr. Foor-Hogue calls a wheel bug, looks like a cross between an armadillo and wasp, with a stinger about an eighth of an inch long.

Over the past two years, his students also have built a bridge over the stream behind the school to keep people from walking into the stream and disturbing the aquatic life.

For at least this year, South Carroll students who want to enroll in carpentry classes ride a bus to the Career and Technology Center in Westminster. Robert Bowden, assistant principal at South Carroll, said the school hasn't decided whether to bring back carpentry.

Whatever happens to the carpentry room, South Carroll is building a new science lab out of "found" space on the west side of the building -- a former common area off the hallway and some restrooms.


The plumbing for the sinks, eyewash and emergency shower will be easy to install because of the adjacent restrooms, Dr. Surber said.