The changes at the Oak Ridge Drive school are causing more than one student to take a fresh look at the program.
After dropping to 289 students in the 1995-96 school year, the center's enrollment grew to 326 student last school year. This year the number stands at 342, according to school officials.
Principal Arnold Hammann, who took over at the school two years ago, said the rebound can be attributed to new and revamped classes like the one Payne is enrolled in and different marketing.
In past years, students were given the chance to sign up for a visit of the Career Studies Center to determine if the school was something they would like.
Starting last year, every 10th-grade student is now brought to the school for a tour, said Hammann.
The visits have been an eye-opening experience for students like Laura DiCarlo, who is studying visual communications at the Career Studies Center. DiCarlo said the school used to be considered a place for students who didn't go to college.
Last week, Dicarlo sat in a clean, brightly-lit graphic design room and talked about the computer equipment "colleges wish they had."
"If anything, this helps you get into a college," said junior Rick Socks, who hopes the skills he is learning at the center will help him get into a graphic design school like the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.
Even the long-established programs that shaped the identity of vocational schools are getting a new look. Outdated machines in the engineering department downstairs sit gathering dust as attention turns to Auto CAD, the industry standard computer software program that is used to run high-tech manfacturing equipment. The school also is linked with Hagerstown Junior College to teach the concept, Hammann said.
New courses include a criminal justice and law enforcement class, where students learn about crime scene investigations and take-down maneuvers and attend murder trials in the local court system, Hammann said.
In one of the classes, a judge sat down with the class after a trial to make sure students understand what they saw, Hammann said.
"We can take the classroom where ever it needs to be. We try to do that with many of our programs," he said.
Another marketing approach the school is trying is using the center's students to talk to students in the county's other seven high schools about the center. Administrators have visited the other schools, but Hammann believes students relate to their peers better.