New Tech High students learn about Zambia

Special to The TribuneJuly 2, 2013 

Gayle Cuddy

Montana Dobbs, 14, and Cole Davis, 15, will be sophomores this fall at New Tech High School in Nipomo. Their spring semester project was on Zambia in Africa.

Their biology teacher, Kurt Payne, developed the World Hunger Project this spring, along with his two Cal Poly student teachers. He gave students a driving question: How does understanding ecology help with solving world hunger?

A goal of New Tech High is looking at real-world problems and applying real-world solutions.

Payne assigned each student a birth certificate for a Second or Third World country as if they were born there, and then had them compare the country with the U.S. in terms of education, food, socioeconomic and labor issues.

Said Payne, it took “students out of their world and put them in another world — (to) give them another side of the story.” Students learned about microfinancing through the Kiva microfinance website.

Each student was “given” $25 and told to pick from a list of people in impoverished countries to give the loan to; for example: a single woman with children to start a baking business, or a family needing a goat to feed their family and sell goat milk.

Later the students developed teams who chose from 51 countries. The Zambia team developed the following solutions to Zambia’s poor economy: a combination of conservative agriculture, the use of GMOs and crop rotation.

New Tech High is a hands-on, student-centered school where the “teachers let us learn for ourselves,” said Montana. “I’m not teaching you, you teach yourself,” is what her teachers tell her, she said. Cole added, “They really push us.”

Why did they want to attend New Tech High? Cole didn’t have a lot of technology in his house. “I thought it would be good for me to learn how to use technology.”

Montana likes the hands-on approach: “We’re different from other high schools — we created our own culture, our code of ethics and morals.”

When asked what they learned most from their Zambia project, Montana said, “I learned how bad it can be in other countries, how poor they can be … and how awful the conditions can be.”

Few people use clean water. Cole said that the people “live by the river (where there) are dangerous animals such as hippos.”

Although Montana is moving to Idaho with her family within a week, she plans to keep in touch with the Zambia project through Skype and by returning to New Tech High each year until graduation.

Gayle Cuddy’s column is special to The Tribune. She and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or

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