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High-Tech High : Databanks and Computer Networks Put New School on Cutting Edge


ALISO VIEJO — Orange County's first new high school in four years cost $25 million, but there isn't a stick of chalk or a simple blackboard in sight.

Instead, each classroom at Aliso Niguel High School features a Macintosh computer and a remote control linking a 27-inch television monitor via fiber-optic cable to a library nerve center filled with racks of laser disc players, CD-ROM machines and other state-of-the-art gadgets.

And at the stroke of a computer key, another information network will let students browse through the databanks of the Library of Congress, or look up documents at the United Nations in New York or Geneva.

Welcome to what educators call perhaps the most technically advanced high school in California, and what Aliso Niguel Principal Denise Danne calls "the debut of a new era."

The high school, which will reach a capacity of about 2,000 students next year when seniors are added, is the first since 1972 for the fast-growing Capistrano Unified School District, which has 30,000 students.

About half of the campus, including classrooms and science labs, will be ready for students when the school opens Thursday. Construction, held up by heavy rains last winter, continues on the campus stadium, gyms, aquatic center and athletic fields, as well as a food court, 375-seat theater and student center.

Students are excited about their new high-tech high school.

"They say it's a model school," said Ashley Antal, a freshman from Mission Viejo. "That will push us to be better. We want to be the best."

District officials are spending about $900,000 on technology for the high school. Half the money for the school came from the state; the rest was generated through Mello-Roos taxes, a special assessment paid by homeowners in some newer communities to finance schools, roads and other public facilities.

The main high-tech feature in the school's 77 classrooms and labs will be the Dynacom video information network.

The system works through a powerful "highway" of television cable and fiber-optics--bundles of thin glass tubes that carry light, rather than electrical impulses, at extremely high speeds.

By pressing a key on a small remote control, teachers and students can gain access via their classroom television monitors or computers to materials on satellite, cable television or from pre-loaded laser disc players, compact disc interactive machines and other equipment stored in the library.

For example, teachers could call up lesson plans they put on floppy discs the night before. They could broadcast a dissection recorded on laser disc, or punch up a CD-ROM that holds pictures of great art from the Renaissance.

The school also invested in a $6,000 tower of seven CD-ROM drives for the library/media center, which will be accessible to students using Macintosh computers in their classrooms or a media center lab.

Through the use of CD-ROM technology, educators say, study materials will literally come alive for students. CD-ROMs are similar to audio compact discs except that they contain text as well as animated and still pictures. They must be played back on a computer with a CD-ROM drive.

Technology teacher Brian Devaney, who will help train his colleagues to use the systems, believes they are ready for what officials are calling the classroom of the future. Teachers will go through 24 to 30 hours of training this school year on the Dynacom system.

"It's going to be challenging but the good thing about it is they knew the job was dangerous when they took it," Devaney said, laughing. "The people coming here are very motivated. They're ready to see these changes."

Many students and their parents also chose the school because it is on the cutting edge of change.

"There seems to be so much more opportunity here," said Jeanne Guerreiro, president of the PTA. "We just want to make it the best school, new or otherwise."

Sophomore Brian Basinger of Mission Viejo said many people decided to stay at Capistrano Valley High School because they were involved in its strong athletic programs. But many others chose Aliso Niguel because of the school's high-tech academic offerings, he said.

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