DuVal High School Principal Frank Stepson can still recall his excitement and wonder on that May afternoon in 1961 when astronaut Alan Shepard and his spacecraft, Freedom 7, shot into the sky and hurtled toward history.
"Something or the other in our everyday lives is the result of aerospace technology, we just don't realize it," said Stepson, remembering the launch he watched on television. "If we don't take advantage of this . . . we'll be missing out on something important."
For the 320 ninth-graders scheduled to begin classes at DuVal on Tuesday, the wonders of aerospace science will be applied to their everyday lives in English, mathematics, science and civics classes that will, for the first time, incorporate the study of aeronautics. English term papers, for example, might be on wind velocity.
The DuVal project is one of several new ones this year in a school system faced with the dual responsibilities of bringing its curriculum in line with the expectations of a 21st century work force while addressing the needs of its predominantly black population.
The school system expects 108,148 students to begin classes Tuesday, a 2 percent increase over last year's enrollment.
To meet their educational agenda, educators plan to push all county middle school students to take Algebra I.
School administrators also plan to begin incorporating into class work some of the recommendations of a 14-member committee instructed by School Superintendent John A. Murphy to look for ways to improve the academic achievement of black males. Among the committee's suggestions are increasing the number of minority teachers and decreasing the number of students, especially black males, who are suspended during the school year.
Officials announced this week that of the 550 new teachers hired this year, 35 percent are black. Fifty of the new educators are black men.
School officials also hope a new course at Charles Carroll Middle School that stresses problem-solving will help relieve a lot of the anxiety and stress that often leads students to fight or deal with each other in threatening manners.
"If we can teach students to deal with their problems in a constructive manner and not get physical . . . that's the proper way to deal with conflict," school spokeswoman Bonnie Jenkins said.
"We saw a problem with students having a difficult time dealing with conflict, anger and rage," said William Ryan, a Charles Carroll social studies teacher and coordinator of the program. "We're no longer working in an agricultural society where you can go off and live without interracting with the others.
School officials said they are just beginning to reshape the current curriculum to include the contributions and nuances of a variety of races and plan to purchase textbooks that reflect a multicultural society.
In the meantime, all of the system's teachers, 70 percent of them white, will participate in seminars about the cultural backgrounds of a student population that is 64.5 percent black.
At DuVal, located in Lanham in the midst of an aerospace technology center, officials plan to use the resources of neighbors like NASA, Ford Motor Co. and aerospace giants McDonnell Douglas, Bendix and Martin Marietta. Students will be able to visit those companies, and employees will come to the school as guest speakers. Ninth-graders also will be able to observe space launches via a satellite dish on loan to the school from NASA.