Will they be Techies or Comps? The 2,300 eighth and ninth graders from Prince George7s County who examination for science and technology programs at Eleanor Roosevelt and Oxon Hill high schools will learn the answer in about two weeks.
One-fourth of the students will gain entrance to the prestigious science and technology courses, becoming part of the expanding academic elite of the county school system.
The remaining three-quarters will enroll in regular classes at Roosevelt and Oxon Hill, where they will be known as comprehensive students, to distinguish them from pupils in the special programs or in other county high schools.
The science and technology program at Roosevelt was established six years ago, when empty space in the school gave officials the opportunity they had been seeking to provide new programs for talented students. Since then, the number of students has remained constant at 920, but the number of applications has increased steadily.
In response to increasing demand, and to avoid the long bus rides students from the southern end of the county faced, the school system decided to use room created by declining enrollment at Oxon Hill to open a second science and technology program for bright students. The new courses will admit 250 students in ninth and 10th grades in September, and will operate with 500 students in grades nine through 12 by the 1984-85 school year.
The students successful in this year's examinations will find themselves part of a growing elite of county students. By 1984, about 1,400 of the county's anticipated 53,000 high school students will be in the accelerated science and technology programs. With the nearly 6,000 students throughout the system who have been identified as "talented and gifted" and who participate in special TAG programs in schools throughout the system, they form a solid core of students who have been documented as above average.
School board members and administrators are so pleased with the Roosevelt program that last year they established a task force to investigate the prospects for a third school of the same design, this time for the performing arts at Suitland High School. That task force probably will report to the school board in late April.
The idea has been vigorously opposed by some. School board member Norman H. Saunders, for example, has called for an athletic high school, not because he wants one but to demonstrate his fear that a performing arts school will take the "cream off the top" of student bodies and leave the comprehensive schools with thin milk. An art school graduate himself, Saunders said art subjects should be taught in elective classes and not form the foundation for a new school.
Defenders of the concept counter that the number of students involved would be too small to make a dent in large county high schools and that, like Roosevelt, a performing arts school would be "just another program" catering to special needs.
Yet Roosevelt has been a highly vaunted feather in the school board's cap. Many members, always conscious that neighboring Montgomery County students generally score higher on tests of scholastic achievement, can cite Roosevelt's statistics without recourse to notes. Last year, five science and technology students were accepted by Harvard (one decided to go to Yale), more than were accepted from any other Maryland school, according to Roosevelt administrators. This year, the program produced 19 National Merit Scholarship finalists.
About 80 percent of Roosevelt's science and technology students go on to four-year colleges, compared with 40 percent of Roosevelt's comprehensive students and about 40 percent of pupils in the county as a whole.
But while the school system encourages these teen-agers to excel--to "aim for the sky . . . to stretch, to grow," as school board Chairman Doris A. Eugene puts it, teachers try to ensure the students don't isolate themselves from their less academic peers.
Entering Techs at Roosevelt quickly discover they are outnumbered--920 to 1,300--by comprehensive students, who have the same teachers and sometimes share the same classrooms.
J. Vincent Wheatley, a Roosevelt biology teacher who will coordinate the new program at Oxon Hill, said that when Roosevelt's accelerated classes began six years ago he thought it was "probably best to stick all these kids off by themselves."
He now believes that the school system is responsible for students' "socialization" as well as education, and contact with the Comp students helps. "When the freshmen come in, a lot of them just haven't had the worldly experience that the Comp kids have had," he says.
In general, Wheatley adds, if you are a Tech student, "you don't go to the Boys Club and play too much basketball, you don't go to as many parties, there isn't as much social activity," whereas Comp students will begin Monday mornings by "comparing social notes" from the weekend.
In the classroom, he notes, "the Comp can be a lot of fun. You ham it up and have a good time. With the Techs, you try not to let them get too serious. . . . Sometimes the Tech kids get so wrapped up in being exactly right that they get into a corner and the whole person doesn't come out of them."
School officials say they fight this tendency. "We want one student population, not two," says James Bruns, coordinator of the program at Roosevelt. In its first two years, the science and technology program, he says, was "losing too many students to my way of thinking." A survey revealed that "a lot of the kids saw this as only an academic place."
Since then, pre-admission orientation programs have been introduced and more emphasis has been placed on extracurricular activities, which the Techs share with the Comps.
Principal R. Raymond Ogden says the school tries to downplay the differences. In grades 11 and 12, most of the accelerated courses are opened to talented Comp students as well as to the Techs, he notes. And in graduation ceremonies, Tech and Comp students are not identified as such when they are handed their diplomas.
But when Ogden takes a visitor to two biology classes, one Comp and one Tech, in adjacent classrooms, the difference is clear. Teacher Jarvis Pahl begins her class, composed mostly of 10th grade students, by giving the Comp students an extension on a genetics assignment. The students had dissected the reproductive organs of frogs and fishes the day before and today she discusses genetics.
She teaches largely by asking questions and then elaborating on students' responses. But few teen-agers volunteer answers. A couple of students seem enthusiastic and several are busy taking notes. But others are doodling. Some are simply staring. She tells one student to wake up.
In the adjacent class, ninth-grade students are dissecting earthworms and teacher Wheatley is answering question after question, not asking them. The pupils will be tested on what they see inside the earthworms, he warns. "So when you open it up, don't just say 'Oooh.' Say 'This is the gizzard, this is the esophagus.' "
Nor are the teen-agers blind to the differences between the two academic groups.
"Most of the time we can tell a Tech student," says Renae Simpkins, a student in Pahl's biology class. "They act like they're in a rush to get to class. They can't wait. They have calculators all the time."
Barbara Young, another Comp student, agrees. "Sometimes you can tell because they wear glasses," she said. "They take an armful of books."
Young said Tech students often help Comp students with their work, but neither she nor Simpkins believes Tech students are more intelligent than Comp students like them. "Just because they passed the test doesn't make them any smarter," Young said. While students agreed that the combination of comprehensive and technology students is good for the school, it occasionally causes problems. Matt Maio, a Tech student in Wheatley's class, said "the Comprehensives mess around with you, calling you 'Tech.' On the wrestling team they razz me. I wear glasses and that stuff; I don't know that there's a real difference in the way we dress, but the glasses don't help at all."
James Shenke, another student in the class, says he thinks problems between Comps and Techs at Roosevelt are minor, but is worried about what will happen when a new program opens at an established school like Oxon Hill. Shenke lives nearer to Oxon Hill and recently toured the school to help decide whether he will transfer.
While he was there, he said, he crossed paths with a "big brawny senior." The senior clenched his fist, banged it into the palm of his other hand and called Shenke a "Techie."
"There could be some friction at Oxon Hill," Shenke said.
Wheatley, however, is looking forward to the beginning of Oxon Hill's science and technology courses. "I want to compete" with Roosevelt, he said. "It's not going to be like the Redskins and the Eagles, but our Tech kids could take some competition. They need some perspective. They need to be brought down to earth."