Key components of New Tech

February 28, 2014 

Thank you for the update on Central Coast New Tech High (Tribune, Feb. 14). As parents of twin sophomores at New Tech High, we believed enough in this innovative method of project-based learning to trust that it would better prepare our sons for college and careers.

It can be difficult to choose an alternative school, especially if friends aren’t going there, but both of our sons are happy and thriving at New Tech. Additionally, they are learning and developing stronger communication, critical thinking, collaboration and leadership skills that will be invaluable in the workforce.

Consider the difference between reading about World War I versus creating a museum, with a reenactment of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the sinking of the Lusitania, setting up a field hospital, using math to plot the trajectory of weaponry and making biology exhibits about chemical warfare.

To study the 1920s, students wrote articles about the Great Depression, Prohibition, the Roaring ’20s and women’s suffrage, which they published in magazines. They hosted a 1929 Night for parents and the public, showcasing their work, dressing in ’20s attire, setting up a speakeasy and performing the Charleston.

The common belief that individual grades will be dragged down by students not pulling their weight on projects is mistaken. Benchmarks built into projects must be completed by each student, and teachers know who is working hard and who is not, and they grade accordingly. “Slackers” risk being fired. Groups constantly change, and working in teams can be fun as well as challenging, developing collaborative and negotiating skills that will serve students well.

The use of the latest technology is another key component of instruction. Students taking digital media arts build websites, create videos for the school’s YouTube channel and will earn certifications through Adobe or Oracle that will help them procure internships. One-to-one computing and online digital portfolios enable students to connect with each other and an excellent team of innovative educators.

New Tech High is mentored by Cal Poly’s Entrepreneur in Residence, who helped revamp the school’s website to better define its student-centered identity. He encouraged the school to participate in Startup Weekend SLO, and students have been invited to tour The SLO HotHouse, an incubator for startup businesses. Connections to local businesses for internships is a key component, as is the opportunity to earn college credit through partnerships with local colleges.

Extracurricular activities are available: Sports can be played at either Arroyo Grande or Nipomo high schools. Both of our sons play sports at NHS — basketball and water polo.

Students can join Nipomo’s excellent drama department, and there are two New Tech students on the NHS cheerleading squad. New Tech High sent a team to the SLO County Mock Trial competition.

High Tech High in San Diego, open since 2000, has four times as many applicants as openings because parents and students recognize its value. Central Coast New Tech High is an undiscovered gem in our district, an innovative public school that is also an investment and valuable resource for Lucia Mar Unified School District.

New Tech is teaching middle school teachers project-based learning, and New Tech students visit elementary schools to teach younger students how to utilize Google Drive and search engines. New Tech High support comes from the Lucia Mar Foundation for Innovation, thanks to a grant from PG&E, with the goal that the entire district benefits from having New Tech High.

Recruitment has started for the 2014-15 school year, and I encourage parents and students to visit the school to see whether it’s the right fit for them. Tours for prospective students and parents are scheduled for March. More information can be found at http://www.centralcoastnewtech.org.  

Sharon McDaniel is an Arroyo Grande resident and mother of two New Tech High students.

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