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Technology program sparks pupils' interest


After a week learning about Howard County's new technology magnet program, 13-year-old Dave Wilson wants to learn more. "It's all sparking my interest," Dave said yesterday while using a computer to discover the nutritional value of his previous day's meals.

Dave's positive response -- and those of many of the 130 other incoming high school freshmen attending a weeklong introductory program -- counters lingering doubts about whether students would sign up for the new technology magnet program scheduled to open in fall 1996. The new program will replace the more traditional vocational education now offered by the Howard County School of Technology.

"I'm very pleased with the response," said Donald Lewis, a supervisor in the school system's Office of Education Technologies. "The students have had a chance to see what is going to be taught in the new program, and the feedback is really positive."

And why not? During the week's "technology magnet camp" at Wilde Lake High School at River Hill -- the school system's first hands-on demonstration of its new program -- students got a chance to experiment with computer images, DNA testing and running their own television newscasts.

The new technology magnet program will include a more rigorous academic foundation than standard vocational education programs. It will rely on private industry and technical colleges to train students in the specifics of such fields as auto mechanics and cosmetology.

The magnet's five subject areas -- biotechnology, communications, construction and manufacturing, human services, and energy, power and transportation -- will include one "strand" for students interested in getting a job directly after graduation, and another set of courses for those who plan to go on to a four-year college or university.

Some Howard parents have expressed concerns about whether the program's academic requirements -- including completing algebra by the end of ninth grade -- will bar from participating some of the students who are enrolled in the current vocational-technical program.

But school officials say they will offer assistance to help ensure all students are able to meet those qualifications. And they argue that Howard County's program is similar to others being created across the state and includes the academic requirements essential to successful careers.

To this point, school officials have been "selling" the program to eighth- and ninth-graders through a series of meetings with them and parents. More than 200 eighth-graders already have signed letters of intent to enter the program, scheduled to begin when the new River Hill and Long Reach high schools open in 1996.

The opportunity to catch a glimpse of the technology magnet program didn't attract just students. Several teachers said they volunteered to instruct the students because they wanted to learn more about the program, and school officials and school board members have been taking tours all week.

"I came here to teach because I wanted to see the technology magnet program for myself," said Ann Sullivan, a science teacher at Hammond High School who was leading students through electrophoresis -- separating chemicals such as DNA in a gel using electricity -- as part of a biotechnology lesson.

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