Instead of the traditional school bell, about 900 students arriving at newly opened Rancho Santa Margarita Intermediate School were greeted Thursday by the sounds of trumpeters, straight from Disneyland.
Near an archway of balloons bearing the school colors of teal, black and white hung a banner with the school mascot saying, "Beep Beep. Roadrunners Coming Through."
Inside the $11-million school, teachers wasted no time in using computers and high-tech teaching tools--part of a $1-million school technology program--available in every classroom. Funds for the school came from the state and Mello-Roos taxes, special assessments for school construction paid by homeowners in the area.
From the heraldic trumpets to the computers, the morning was a historic one for the young community of Rancho Santa Margarita.
The school, part of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, is the first public intermediate school in the community and one of the most technologically advanced in the county.
"It's state of the art, very nice," said Denise Eshbach of Trabuco Canyon as she dropped off her 13-year-old daughter, Stephanie. "We've been looking forward to this . . . watching it go from Day One."
The 90,000-square-foot school is designed to bring as much technology as possible into the classrooms, as well as encouraging students to begin preparing for college and careers.
In the next three weeks, each of the 45 classrooms will be equipped with an Apple Macintosh computer, laser disk player, videocassette recorder and television.
When teachers need more computers for their classes, they can wheel in a mobile lab stocked with Apple laptops.
Students also will have use of six science labs and several computer and technology labs, including a video production studio in the library.
In one lab, students will learn the basics of engineering and technology through the use of such instruments as a wind tunnel. In another, students can create class reports with text, graphics and pictures, both still and moving. "This whole thing isn't just to have guns, whistles and bells," Principal Walt Otto said. "It is to enhance academics."
An educator for 30 years, Otto previously was principal at Villa Park High School. In 1986, he opened Pinacate Middle School in Perris Valley.
"I want to have enough options for kids so that they will get hooked" on learning, Otto said. "I want them to make wise decisions."
Teachers have already gone through eight to 24 hours of training this summer to focus on ways to use the computers and technology in their everyday lesson plans, said Linda Smith, the district technology specialist.
"The teachers have more options in allowing their students to explore," Smith said.
While some students said they were nervous about the many computers they will be using, others were excited.
Teachers can talk about things and draw them, "but it's better on a computer," said eighth-grader Melissa Wight of Rancho Santa Margarita.
The 20-acre campus also includes a fully automated media center/library, a 300-seat indoor theater, an outdoor amphitheater, a large gymnasium, a track and football field, four tennis courts, 10 outdoor basketball courts, three soccer fields and four softball fields.