Summit Hall Elementary Pushing for More Portable Classrooms (PHOTOS)
Oscar Alvarenga points to the class photo hanging in the hallway from 1986 when he was a sixth grader at Summit Hall Elementary School. That’s not the only thing still here from his time as a student. The exact portable classroom where he learned his lessons is still being used at the school.
It’s something Alvarenga, the school’s PTA President hopes to help change as his alma mater grows from 649 students to nearly 700 students next year in a school built with a 475 Montgomery County Public Schools rated capacity.
But, Alvarenga isn’t trying to get rid of a portable classroom. He’s actually lobbying for another two to add to the ten already at the school. MCPS has said it only wants to add one portable to take care of the crowding issue here and instead covert a computer lab space with about 30 desktop computers inside the main building into a classroom.
Moving from a “lab” model to a wireless mobile computer concept is something that is happening systemwide, according to MCPS Spokesperson Dana Tofig
“Because all of our buildings are wireless and we are rolling much more technology into the schools, the need for a computer lab is not as pronounced. Next year grades 3-5 will have Chromebooks and technology in younger grades is provided on a cart and the instruction is delivered in the classroom. Technology is no longer a separate thing, but is intergrated into instruction in an ongoing way,” Tofig told MyMCMedia.
School Principal Keith Jones said he believes there is still a role for desktop computers, but said he understands financial constraints.
“Money is tight from Annapolis to D.C.,” he said.
Still Summit Hall is grappling with a school building that like many others in the school system is too small for its student body. Here, more than 80 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch and 67 percent are Hispanic, according to MCPS. There is a Linkages to Learning program here and a school-based heath center too. There are seven ESOL teachers. The student body make-up creates the need for a lot of one-on-one and small group instruction, according to Jones. On a tour of the school, Jones pointed out nooks and crannies being used as instructional space, a hallway, a closet, an entryway. And teachers partner up for office space.
“We tried to have instructional space here,” Jones said pointing to a supply closet that also housed the school’s computer server. “But we were told we weren’t allowed to use it.”
Already 100 incoming kindergarteners have signed up for orientation. The fourth and fifth graders, inhabiting eight portables are at a 28 students to teacher ratio.
The school is slated for an HVAC update over the summer and a front entry redesign for security. A full renovation had been on the table for 2022 but it’s now on hold as the school system looks at cluster-wide capacity issues.
Alvarenga said he’s not blind to other issues within the Gaithersburg cluster. He’s recently been appointed that cluster’s representative to the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. He said he’s working to solve the problem jointly.
“We need to lobby together. Maybe if someone lobbied hard here ten years ago we’d be further along,” he said.