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Staff stepped aside and let students explain to Gov. Martin O’Malley the programs and opportunities available to them at North Point High School.

O’Malley (D) spoke with students and got to do a few hands-on activities in the school’s science, technology and industry classrooms during a visit Monday to the Waldorf high school. He took the opportunity to tour the building and discuss his plans for initiatives related to college and career readiness.

O’Malley is proposing $7 million in this year’s budget toward two new initiatives, $5 million toward a digital learning innovation fund and $2 million for an Early College Innovation Fund.

According to information from O’Malley’s office, the digital learning fund would provide resources to school systems to accelerate their conversions to digital learning environments. The fund would be linked to competitive grants set up by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Some schools, such as North Point, already provide digital learning opportunities, which include online courses using e-readers and e-portfolios, where students keep samples of their best work for access online.

O’Malley said it is important to include more digital opportunities and get away from traditional textbooks.

The second initiative is $2 million for an Early College Innovation Fund, which O’Malley told officials and school staff was to “encourage more high schools to offer more opportunities to earn college credits or industry-recognized certificates while [students] are already in high schools.”

The fund also would be linked to competitive grants set up by MSDE.

O’Malley said he was “floored,” not only by what Charles County already has accomplished in these areas but “the trajectory of improvement that continues to roll forward,” such as in algebra, English and biology.

While in an engineering class at North Point, Collin Schirf, 17, and Luke Morrissey, 17, showed O’Malley how they are able to use a three-dimensional printer, a printer that creates a 3-D object from a digital design. Engineering teacher Rich Pauole explained in a later interview that the 3-D printer creates objects using plastics, such as AVS and PLA, and works as an additive process, building the object layer by layer.

Pauole said it works in the opposite manner as a sculptor. While a sculptor creates by taking away from a mound of material, the 3-D printer adds material in layers.

Collin said students in the engineering program at North Point are learning the principles of engineering and how to think like an engineer.

For one of their school projects, students must come up with, design and create a prototype for something that can be used to better society.

One project from the class is still in use today. Students looked into changing the traffic pattern in the school that houses more than 2,000 students, which resulted in students designing and constructing an additional sidewalk at the school.

In the Academy of Health Professions classroom, O’Malley had an opportunity to place a model heart into a model thoracic, or chest, cavity and attach the aorta using a clay heart. The lessons are known to students as anatomy-in-clay.

After examining a clay heart and slicing into one, O’Malley moved on to a hospital bed in the same classroom and learned from a student how to perform CPR, using dummies as patients.

A student instructed O’Malley to compress the dummy’s chest until he heard a click. O’Malley asked jokingly if he would hear that click when performing CPR on a real person. The student joked back, saying he might if he had just cracked the individual’s ribs.

O’Malley showed a jovial side with many students, lightening the mood in the classrooms he visited.

While in an electrical construction class, O’Malley learned from Tyler Piper, 18, how to perform simple motor control functions. From other students, he learned how the class is using and analyzing solar energy from solar panels outside the school.

Students at North Point are not limited to just learning a particular program all day. For example, Jessica Kirkham was busy in the culinary arts classroom making pesto to stuff into pasta shells. She said it’s not always cooking and culinary classes for her. Being under a chef’s hat is just one part of her rigorous education.

Kirkham said the culinary program prepares students who want to get into the culinary field as well as those who are just looking to be a better cook for life, like her.

A student might spend one class period in scrubs working on medical-related things and another in an English class.

O’Malley, in a later interview, said that what is going on at North Point is part of what he envisions for other schools. O’Malley said students need opportunities to prepare for college and careers at the same time.

Providing these opportunities and being able to provide them in one place at one time could help reduce dropout rates and improve student achievement, he said.

A few turns down the long hallways at North Point and O’Malley found himself in the automotive technology class, where students learn about the industry hands-on.

O’Malley learned how to use a machine that allows someone to see what is inside a car’s engine.

He also watched students perform alignments on vehicles.

Melissa Rinaldi, 17, said she wasn’t interested in going into automotive technology as a career but was interested in learning the skills.

“It’s good for a girl to know how to fix her own car,” she said.

Jaevon Hardy, 17, said the skills he learns in automotive technology will be good for a side job as he pursues other interests.

O’Malley saw early in his visit that students were serious about their programs and that the programs were providing opportunities not many students get.

In biotechnology, O’Malley was walked through a project where students, with the help of gel boxes and other resources, work with DNA and proteins.

Onyemauchechukou Ijezie, 17, said not just her biotechnology class but “this whole school” is preparing her to pursue her goal of becoming a pharmacist.

She said “most people around the United States don’t get to see what a gel box is before college,” as she pointed to the boxes students were using while learning about gel electrophoresis, a process of analyzing macromolecules.

Michelle Craig, science department chairwoman at North Point, said gel electrophoresis is essentially a process of taking segments of DNA that are cut with restriction enzymes, which act as chemical scissors, and running them through a gelatin substance using electricity. Bands are created during the process, which are used to determine relationships. For example, the results can be used to determine if two people are related.

O’Malley said North Point is a reflection of a vision Charles County Superintendent of Schools James E. Richmond and others have had for many years.

He said many students would be far more interested in coming to school and graduating if they are learning a trade they will be able to use as soon as they graduate.

Richmond said O’Malley is “truly interested in students getting some sort of education, no matter what it is, beyond high school.”

gphillips@somdnews.com