HAGERSTOWN — When Antietam Academy’s students walk through the doors Wednesday, they’ll find themselves in a new school with lots of sunlight and new classrooms built for smaller class sizes.
“It provides a great environment to take care of students who need extra care, and having a very upscale, attractive environment that has technology and so forth shows we’re looking to take care of our at-risk students and get them to graduation,” said Dave Reeder, director for secondary education.
The new 45,000-square-foot building marks the first time Washington County Public Schools has constructed a school specifically for students in what has at times been called the alternative school program since it began in September 1977 in the North Street Community Center. The building also will house the Evening High program, which also has been provided at various schools over the years, most recently at Washington County Technical High School, said Ike Williams, principal for the academy.
The new school “shows all kids that we are concerned about their education. They’re not stepchildren to the educational program. They’re integral pieces and we want them to graduate,” Reeder said.
Budgeted at $13.9 million, the school will house approximately 100 day students in grades six through 11 who have issues such as disruptive behavior, pronounced academic deficits, and/or a high level of Attention Deficit Disorder or distractibility, according to school system officials.
The school also will serve about 200 to 225 10th- to 12th-graders who attend Evening High School for various reasons, such as having day jobs, Williams said last week.
This summer, Antietam Academy will host the summer school that in the past has been held at North Hagerstown High or South Hagerstown High, Reeder said Sunday.
When school resumes Wednesday after the long weekend, it also will mark the first time since spring 2005 that the alternative program’s middle and high school students will attend classes in the same building, Williams said.
The middle-schoolers were being taught in the basement of Western Heights Middle School in Hagerstown’s West End and the high school students were attending class in portable buildings on the campus of South High, school system officials said.
Having both staffs together under the same roof again could help with course offerings, Reeder said. While multiple grades might have been together in some English or math classes before, there’s the possibility of offering different levels of those courses, he said.
The alternative high school operated for many years in South High’s “H” building until a fire on March 2, 2009, shut down the facility there.
Administrators and teachers have been getting the students ready to move into the new school, which will have the same bell schedule for middle- and high-schoolers, Williams said. That meant changing middle school students’ class schedules at the start of the school year so they were on a four-period day with longer classes.
At the new Antietam Academy, between Tech High and E. Russell Hicks Middle School, there will be separate classrooms for middle and high school classes. The two groups will be separated by double doors, Williams said.
For the most part, middle and high school students will be separated in the school, Williams said. To help staff distinguish between the groups, the academy instituted a dress code last semester, he said. Middle school students wear gray polo shirts and high school students wear black polo shirts.
Classrooms are smaller than regular classrooms because the class sizes are smaller, Williams said. Each classroom has a video camera for safety and security purposes, and direct access to a bathroom so teachers have greater control over where students are, he said.
The average class size for the day classes is seven to nine students, while the average Evening High School class has 15 to 17 students, he said.
The new school includes four science labs, four computer labs, a library, an office for the school resource officer — a police officer — and a multipurpose room that serves as a gym, cafeteria and auditorium, Williams said.
The school also has separate classrooms for art and music, and wireless and hard-wired access to the Internet.
Two large rooms on the mezzanine house ductwork and controls for a geothermal system that will heat and cool the facility.
Antietam’s middle school students don’t take art classes now, but the hope is they will next school year, Williams said.
Antietam doesn’t have a music teacher yet for middle or high school students, Williams said.
During the years leading up to the school’s opening, school system officials have talked about how a new building for the academy would provide room for more students to join the program.
The economy going south has put a crimp in expansion plans, Reeder said. The next budget isn’t expected to have money for new teaching positions, but there might be changes in enrollment at various schools that lead to some teachers being moved around among the schools, Reeder said.