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What’s New at Churchill High School?

The Signature Program at Churchill High offers students a rare opportunity to delve beyond the traditional high school curriculum.

Coordinator Barbara Blazer oversees the Signature Program, which consists of three specialized academies: Creative and Performing Arts; International Studies; and Mathematics, Technology and Science. The Signature Program has grown by 200 students each year for the last two years, and 600 out of the school’s approximately 2100 are now enrolled.

"Our students are challenging themselves and having real-life experiences and delving into careers and professional fields," said Blazer. "The Academies help them focus in these areas."

A fourth academy, Fitness and Sports Management, is in the works to begin as early as fall 2007, and Blazer says it will provide a niche for many students who are not drawn to the three current academies.

In addition to providing specialized training in specific subject areas, the Academies "help with the freshman transition and develop a sense of belonging."

In the Academies, which are open to all freshman and some sophomores who exceed minimum GPA requirements, students participate in internships, Capstone projects and special programs like seminars and college classes. The Academies, which Blazer calls "learning communities," require students to go beyond state requirements by earning an additional four credits and taking part in activities that go beyond traditional high school-level learning.

* Senior Henry Jin, who has a journalism focus in the arts academy, took part in the Maryland Scholastic Press Association at the University of Maryland, participating in classes on news media, production technology and instruction on writing feature and editorial articles.

* Senior Rekha Ananthanpillai, who is in both the international studies academy and the math, technology & science academy, attended an international relations program at Georgetown University and also participated in an internship at InfoZen, Inc., an information technology company based in Rockville.

* Senior Luciana Debenedetti and junior Ariana Siegel participated in a program hosted by the Israeli Embassy to learn about Israel, the Middle East and diplomacy.

* Senior Michael Butvinik is casting and directing a play called "Lend Me a Tenor," and senior Sam Klein will cast and direct the rock opera "Tommy." (Performances will be Oct. 6 & 7.)

* Junior Rashmi Singh secured an internship at NIH to help study the effect of reactive oxygen species on cancer cells. As a result of the research, she is preparing to enter the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search scholarship competition.

* Junior Lillian Tsi secured an internship at NIH to study the effect of green tea polyphenols on DNA mutations in order to see if green tea could help prevent cancer. She is also entering the Intel Science Talent Search.

ROBYN SOLOMON of Potomac is beginning her third year as PTA president of Churchill High. She has been involved in the PTA as a volunteer coordinator, and she has four children, two now attending Churchill.

Last year, the Churchill PTA implemented a simulation called "Every 15 Minutes" to teach the dangers of underage drinking. During the two-day program, a student was removed from class by a "grim reaper" every 15 minutes, representing the frequency of teen alcohol-related deaths each year. A simulated traffic accident and "obituary" readings by friends and family members of the "dead" were arranged to drive the point home for students.

"It was extremely successful, more successful than I could have imagined – the chair people who ran that did an amazing job," said Solomon. "It was initially just geared toward upperclassmen, but we were able to reach all four grades and touch all the kids in the building."

This year, the PTA is planning to do a similar program, but perhaps focused on other issues affecting teens, such as eating disorders or stress. The parent organization will continue to support Churchill High in other ways as well.

"We’re always granting wishes for the teachers, and we provide a lot of volunteer hours and fundraising," said Solomon.