School is 'technical'ly more challenging


HAGERSTOWN - The room was dimly lit.

Rapt teenage faces shone in the glare of computer screens as modern instrumental music shifted in the background.

Seventeen-year-old Nathaniel Smith of Hagerstown played a video game called "Atomic Dodge" while a handful of students looked on, sharing pointers.

The scene was not that of a typical classroom for most students, but for Smith and his peers at Washington County Technical High School, it was. Smith and other students enrolled in the computer game design and animation program at the school were not just playing video games - they had designed and programmed them as well.

"This is the kind of thing parents of new students want to see: end results," said Martin Nikirk, the program's teacher and facilitator.


Teachers and students presented the results of their efforts Saturday at an open house at Washington County Technical High School.

Cory Kerr, 16, of Hagerstown, said he was excited when he learned recently of his acceptance into the game design program for his junior year. He said to be successful in the competitive admissions process, he had to have good grades, good behavior and a passion for the subject.

Kerr's mother, Lesa Kerr, said she was impressed with the school.

"I think it's outstanding," she said. "I'm extremely excited for (Cory) to come here next year."

Nathaniel Smith expressed his enthusiasm about the school and his particular technical area.

"Attending school here is really great," Smith said. "It opens a lot of doors to the business world and for the gaming industry. This is a fantastic place to be."

Principal Jeffrey Stouffer spoke of the school's ability to offer both outstanding technical programs and academics for its more than 370 students.

"This is not your average tech school. It's like a magnet school for technology. It may be one of the finest schools in Maryland," Stouffer said. "It is an advanced technology school, then you throw in all the academic pieces. It is a comprehensive technical high school."

During the 2006-07 school year, the school bucked statistical trends, reporting no dropouts, no suspensions and a 97 percent attendance rate. Stouffer said school administrators from across the United States have visited the school to examine its model of technical and academic programs, which includes a number of Advanced Placement classes.

Patrick Lynch, 15, a 10th-grader at South Hagerstown High School, attended the open house to learn more about the school's criminal justice program.

"I am trying to pursue a career in forensic science," Lynch said. "This program will help jump-start my career."

Barbara Peace is a senior in the school's graphic communications program.

"I love it," Peace said. "It helps me in my field, and my entrepreneur class helps me learn how to run a business, too."

Andrew Fischer, 16, of Hancock, a junior at the school, shared his impression of the school with visitors.

"It's way better than any other public school you can go to in Washington County. It's basically more like college," Fischer said. "Teachers treat students like young professionals, not like kids."

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