To Joan Valentine's way of thinking, one of the best things about Project Lead the Way is that it lets other people see what she already knows - that her students are terrific.
"We wanted something to really show off our kids and to kind of let people know that we've got some great kids here," said Valentine, the principal at Meade High School.
Two years ago, the ethnically diverse school adopted a curriculum called Project Lead the Way, a series of challenging pre-engineering classes that students can take as electives. The idea is to set high standards for students and give them real challenges.
This spring, the program passed muster with the national Project Lead the Way organization, which forms partnerships between middle and high schools, colleges and businesses. By winning certification, Meade High's program will be able to continue and expand.
The national organization provides the curriculum material for students and professional development for teachers, but the school must provide any technology and must make sure the teachers have mastered the required courses.
The program, developed in the 1980s, is offered in some 1,000 high schools and middle schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia. In Anne Arundel County, Meade High was the first school to adopt Project Lead the Way, Valentine said, with Severna Park High following suit.
Meade High offers two pre-engineering classes: Principles of Engineering, offered to freshmen, and Introduction to Engineering Design for sophomores, said William Sheppard, school career connections facilitator, who administers the program.
About 75 students are enrolled in the two courses, Sheppard said.
"We have just as many girls as we have boys, which is unusual," Valentine said.
The high number of students taking the classes is impressive since, as electives, the pre-engineering courses are added to the student's existing course load. Those signing up for Project Lead the Way classes could have opted instead for physical education, art, or other elective courses.
"What we try to help them understand is that when you get ready to fill out your college application, and there are two people applying for that same slot, they're going to look at the one who has had Project Lead the Way," Valentine said.
Participating juniors next year will have a course in digital electronics, and seniors the next year will have classes in computer-integrated manufacturing and in engineering design and development from which to choose. A class in aerospace engineering is also planned, Sheppard said.
Before they can teach the classes, instructors must take Project Lead the Way courses over the summer.
"This program is big on keeping your certification, high standards and making sure that the people who are involved in it are meeting the criteria set forth by Project Lead the Way," Valentine said.
Some of the classes have been taught at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, but one teacher had to travel to South Carolina to take the right course, and another is going to Purdue University in Indiana this summer, Sheppard said.
Valentine said teachers have not complained about the extra workload.
"Trust me," she said, "If they could teach Project Lead the Way all day, they'd do that."
Valentine said that she chose to focus on engineering since Meade High is near the National Security Administration, Northrop Grumman and other engineering-related organizations.
Northrop Grumman and the technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton are serving as partners to the program, Sheppard said. "We are very, very fortunate to have large corporations who have worked very closely with us," he said.
To make sure the school was meeting the requirements, Valentine said, "They sent a team of people in, engineers, educators and people from the colleges and people from our own board of education." The team spent the day observing classes and talking to students
Project Lead the Way has given the school something that sets it and its students apart, according to its principal.
"We kind of wanted a signature program for Meade," Valentine said.