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"I know the history well. I know how at one time it was a school of last resorts, and it's become a school of choice," said Duncan, who once led
In the budding nanotechnology industry, scientists manipulate nanoparticles -- one-billionth of a meter in size -- to improve everything from medical devices to makeup.
"I didn't even know these things existed. I knew there were microscopes. I didn't know you could use all this technology," said
Visiting Department of Education officials said the nanotechnology lab might be the first of its kind.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative -- which doesn't formally track high school programs -- also said Wheeling may be the first high school lab of this magnitude, according to spokeswoman
"I don't know of any other schools in the U.S. doing this level of nanotechnology education," Newman said.
Wheeling launched an introductory nanotechnology course this fall with about 30 students.
"When I first walked in here, it was overwhelming," she said.
It's expected that the course will eventually open up to all
That's a far cry from the 1990s, when the district had to tighten policies on student transfers to curb so-called brain drain. Back then, more than 150 Wheeling kids asked to transfer out, partly because of the school's mixed reputation as an outlier to the boastfully high-achieving District 214.
"We needed to strategically rebrand," said
In 2010, Wheeling rededicated itself to a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, a group commonly known as STEM.
Last year, its state test scores showed it was the lowest-performing school in the district.
"This is very unique in, I think, a pretty extraordinary way," Duncan said. "I read a lot about it, studied it some, but really wanted to come out and see it for myself."
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