High-tech school opens doors to the future of city education


At one point this year, plans for a new state-of-the-art technology center being built inside Southern High School appeared to be a fairly impossible mission. Slabs of plywood blocked off sections of the building, construction workers banged and buzzed incessantly, and the cutting-edge educational equipment the 300 freshmen had been promised was barely trickling in.

But when parents and community members walk the halls of Digital Harbor High School today during the school's first open house since the first phase of its transformation was completed recently, they'll find all that has changed.

The school is brighter and more colorful, architecturally designed to give a futuristic feel. Ceilings follow the undulating curves of sine waves. Furniture is sleek and metallic. And throughout, the school has enough gizmos to put Inspector Gadget to shame.

Classrooms are outfitted with surround sound and touch-screen teacher resource centers. Tiered lecture halls resemble seminar rooms on college campuses with advanced audiovisual systems. And student desks are wired for Internet access.

"All the desks are equipped with electric [outlets] and data [ports], so kids can just hook their laptops up to these little domes here," said Principal Michael Pitroff.

By the end of next year, Digital Harbor aims to be one of the Baltimore school system's crown jewels - preparing college-bound students for computer science courses or producing computer technicians ready for the workplace.

Just as college students select a major, Digital Harbor students will be required to choose one of four areas of concentration: working systems, programming and software development, information support services, or interactive media/video.

There are distance-learning rooms for collaboration with local colleges, and coursework is designed to be challenging.

Consider this recent exchange in a freshman algebra and data analysis class:

"Where's the data for this equation?" teacher Ezra Hill asked, as students hovered over their TI-83 graphing calculators. The work was projected so that the class could see the graphs they were plotting.

"L3," Conell Lyons, 14, called out.

"L3, that's right," Hill said.

"Don't we go to VARS?" Conell asked.

What might sound like a foreign language to many is becoming second nature to these budding technophiles.

"The teachers here make us feel like we can do it if we just keep doing our work," said Franshon Purvis, 15, who aims to become a Web site designer. The aesthetic - and academic - overhaul also has made a difference in students' outlooks.

"I think the attitude of the students is incredible," said technology instructor Joseph Connolly, who left a teaching job in New York City to work at Digital Harbor. "I think their eagerness to learn has increased, and it's all because of the environment. They see that it's a businesslike environment, and that's carried over into their attitudes."

The school will have close to 400 computers in 14 labs. That's not counting the desktop computers in classrooms, science labs, library and offices.

The building will be stocked with scanners, digital cameras and DVD players. Each of the school's students - 1,400 will be enrolled here as classes are added - will be given a laptop computer that can be taken home permanently upon graduation.

Neighbors moving into the Harborview housing development across the street - where condominiums and townhouses sell from $400,000 to more than $1 million - will be able to take advantage of the school's media center, which will have a copy center and cyber cafe.

Even the school's facade will be refurbished, making the building blend with its neighborhood. An electronic marquee and neon sign will welcome visitors and passers-by. Night lighting and tree planters will also help improve the look of the campus. "Before, we were just talking about it," Pitroff said. "Now it's a reality."

Today's open house is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

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