How It All Began
The city of Napa is best known as the southern tip of California’s most famous wine-making region, but is now becoming famous as the birthplace of an educational revolution. When several local businesspeople and community educational leaders first tossed around the idea of a school in which students would learn the skills necessary to succeed in the new economy, they were not looking to start an educational revolution. They were looking for a way to support better skills for the pool of local employees. Students were looking for a way to come out of school better prepared for jobs in a technologically advanced marketplace. The community as a whole was concerned with getting quality of public education in general. Out of these concerns came inspiration, and New Technology High School was born.
Since opening its doors in 1996, New Technology High School has graduated 1091 students, sending them to an impressive list of top colleges and internships with nearby Silicon Valley companies. The students themselves helped design its elegant modern facade and also assist in maintaining its interior landscape, the NTHS website. The classrooms are visions of modern industriousness; with each student having at his or her own personal computer. Students use the latest software to do everything from accessing daily bulletins to completing math assignments. Some students have been computer junkies all their lives. Some have never touched a mouse before arriving at NTHS.
The most exciting aspect of education at NTHS is directly connected to this access to technology. It’s called “project-based learning”, and it very nearly comprises a revolution in itself. Instead of plugging their knowledge into fill-in bubbles on scantron sheets at finals time, students present tech-based projects about the subject at hand. You won’t find simple book reports at New Tech High – you’re more likely to see a detailed website with original graphics and links to related sites, or a beautifully designed Power-Point presentation combining digital photography and original text.
Parents shouldn’t fear that all this technology overshadows core academics. Students fulfill all district requirements and some extra ones specific to NTHS. They can also get college credit at local Napa Valley College. They need not sit behind a computer screen all day – extracurricular organizations include clubs, dances, and off-campus trips. Students can enroll in music and sports at nearby Napa or Vintage High Schools. In addition, students learn self-sufficiency and time management and participate in what the school’s founders call “A Community of Trust.” Small class sizes and personal relationships with instructors create an environment in which students are responsible for their own learning. There are no bells telling them when classes begin and end and no hall passes required to go to the bathroom. It’s more like college, or even a workplace, than a high school. In addition, the atmosphere of trust and respect makes students feel comfortable leaving their backpacks behind in a classroom. A seemingly insignificant privilege, it comes at a time when too many students across the country fear that the locker next to theirs may hold a weapon.
The enormous success of the NTHS experiment brings some inevitable questions, including how to keep up with the latest technological developments. The NT Foundation was created to support the school and effectively channel grant money. In addition, the NT Foundation has assisted other communities to replicate a New Technology High of their own.
A Unique Learning Environment
Even from the outside, NTHS looks different. It’s cleaner. It’s more colorful. It’s sleek and elegant. Enter its doors, and you’ll see bright classrooms with windows on all sides. Roomy computer work stations line all classrooms, alongside tables and chairs used for group work fill the room. Workshops and student presentations are presented at the front of the room aided by a smart board. Besides classrooms, there’s a cybercafe, and clean bathrooms. A single instance of graffiti is enough to unite the students in anger against the unknown perpetrator, inspiring them to write articles in the school newspaper and make impassioned speeches. It’s impossible to imagine such outrage at any other public high school.
But the physical differences are only the beginning. Unique teaching methods and an independent learning environment enhance the technology. This is no cold, hard school of uniformly competent robots. Individualism and communication are encouraged, primarily through the revolutionary teaching technique known as Project-Based Learning.
Project Based Learning
The backbone of NTHS’s unique learning environment is Project-Based Learning. Instead of handing out daily assignments, teachers assign periodic projects with different components. Components may include a written essay and a digital project such as a website, PowerPoint presentation, or photo essay. Finally, students are asked to present their work orally to their classmates. Students work on these projects either individually, with a partner, or in a group.