Wheaton High School-a visit to my old/new school

Wheaton High School, Silver Spring, MD

The Wheaton High School Logo is new. Note that the old knight on a horse has been replaced.

It is with a bit of sadness that my fellow alumni and I watched while the old Wheaton High School went under the wrecking ball this past month. The building is now pretty much demolished and all that remains is for them to haul the debris away. My high school years form a pretty good memory for me-both for the friends that I made and the profound changes that I underwent while a student at Wheaton. I graduated almost 45 years ago but there are events, teachers and people that I knew in that era who are still imprinted in my memory and heart. In compensation for my sadness I can say that it has been a pleasure to have seen the new Wheaton High School go up near Randolph Rd. in the past year.  While driving by the now completed school I got a notion that it would be fun to go and see the new school and report back to my readers. So, I sent an email to the school’s principal, Dr. Debra Mugge, (pronounced “muggy”) and was delighted to receive an invitation from her to come for a visit and  guided tour sometime in August before the fall session started.

Wheaton High School Main Office

I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Wheaton’s principal Dr. Debra Mugge-pictured here in the main office.

Last Tuesday I showed up for my tour with my trusty camera in tow. Dr. Mugge was very kind to give me a personal tour. She has to be very busy at this time of year preparing for the new school year so I am very grateful to her for her time. She has been the principal of Wheaton High School for just over two years and was there for the very complicated transfer of students and staff from the old building to the new. It was apparent to me that she takes a lot of pride in her school and after my visit it is not hard for me to see why.

Wheaton High School, interior feature

Located near the dining area is this bank of steps. An ideal spot for students to hang out and recharge devices.

Where to start? I have not been back to WHS since I graduated and have hardly been in any county high school in the last two decades. It is pretty apparent that there has been a lot of change in the intervening  years. My first impression of the new school is that it is clear how important technology has become in modern education. The new building is wired from top to bottom and many classrooms feature banks of computer screens. Many of the open spaces feature prominent outlets that allow students the opportunity to hook up and recharge their devices.  In consideration of the demands of a high tech society where unique skills are needed, the school offers an array of course options that a student from the pre-computer era would not recognize. Dr. Mugge was patient in her descriptions but the The Academy of Engineering, The Bio-Science Academy, The Institute for Global and Cultural Studies,  and The Academy of Information Technology sounded out of place to me and more in line with my experiences in college.

Wheaton High School Cafeteria

The dining area is designed to accommodate every student in one sitting. There is also outside seating for nice days.

The building itself is lovely both inside and out. Some things never change such as the row upon row of lockers with their combination locks, and it does not look as if they have figured out a new sort of material other than the good old cinder block. But these are small matters as the three level building looks great and features spacious open hallways and modern decor. The visual effect is actually relaxing and the school environment seems to encourage learning.  I could see that a lot of thought went into the design of the building and my impression was that I was seeing “state of the art” all through my visit.  The cafeteria is centrally located and massive. Dr. Mugge told me that it is designed to accommodate all  students in one lunch period rather than requiring staggered lunch hours.  Adjoining the cafeteria (is this word outdated?)  there is a very nice outdoor eating area that the students can use when the weather permits. The gym looked oddly familiar but is larger than the old one and much more modern.

Wheaton High School Gym

Dr. Mugge stuck to her guns and made them put in dark natural wood for the “paint” part of the basketball court.

In my opinion the showpiece of the new Wheaton High School is the auditorium. Dr. Mugge said that it has been referred as a “Strathmore in miniature” and I completely agree. Not only is the auditorium a technical marvel but it is also just plain lovely.  A lot of thought went into the standard classrooms as well. Missing are the old one-piece desks that we all knew and hated. The new desks look fairly similar but are now a little larger and have separate chairs. Dr. Mugge explained that modern students have become so much taller and bigger so the one size fits all concept just no longer works.  In one classroom that featured banks of computer terminals, the computers actually faced away from the lectern so that students would have to turn away from the terminals to hear instruction. Both to prevent the distraction of the computers during lecture and provide work space for the students to write and take notes. Very clever.

Wheaton High School Auditorium

This photo does not do justice to the new auditorium which is simply stunning.

Instead of the old nurse’s office the school features a wellness center complex. It is apparent that a lot more thought goes into the heath issues facing students these days and the facility has changed to meet the challenge. They even have a pediatrician who holds office hours on campus a few days a week. Pretty impressive.  The Media Center (old timers would call it a library) still offers tons of books. It is an impressive, well-appointed space. Most noticeable is the absence of computer monitors in the Media Center. Dr. Mugge told me that this was a conscious decision to downplay the monitors in the main area of the center. Not to say that there are not plenty of computer resources available to the students elsewhere.

Wheaton High School Media Center

The media center (library to you old timers) is very appealing. Still a lot of books to be found there.

There is so much more to describe but I just can’t fit it all in the space of this blog. Needless to say, I walked away feeling pretty good about my old school and the direction it is taken. As it is now the new Wheaton High School probably rivals any high school in the county or nation in quality and amenities. I am glad to see it. The kids who live in the Wheaton area deserve a school of this caliber. The Wheaton neighborhood that I grew up in was a blue collar neighborhood and can still be described in those terms. We were not especially wealthy back then and that fact probably has not changed for most of the students attending today. I firmly believe that I got a first class education out of Wheaton High School that has served me well over my many years. The old Wheaton was a great school. From the looks of it, it still is. I am confident that students going to Wheaton High School today are getting as much out of it as I did and perhaps a little more.

Wheaton High School Mosaic

This mosaic, at the junction of two hallways on the main level, is the work of a recent graduate.

Wheaton High School Interior

The layout of the school is open and very modern.

Wheaton High School Classroom

Some projects underway. The classrooms have so much to offer students to prepare them for today’s needs.

Wheaton High School Classroom

Note the computer monitors face away from the front of the class.

Wheaton High School Exterior

The community now has a state of the art school to serve the community well for years to come.

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