Low Moor, VA (Jan. 19, 2018) – Alleghany High School is becoming a New Tech school.
“Our goal with becoming a New Tech school is to better prepare our students for the world beyond high school,” said AHS principal Dwayne Ross.
The Virginia Department of Education is changing the profile of a Virginia graduate and shifting the commonwealth’s educational goals away from standards based testing. In Alleghany County, members of the community, school officials, and members of the faculty began considering how best to approach these new changes two years ago. Now, in the fall of 2018, Alleghany High School will become the first school in Virginia to be a whole-school New Tech school.
What is Project Based Learning?
The New Tech Network is a network of schools across the country who have committed to a focus on project based learning in the classroom.
Project based learning is a classroom approach that is student centered and aims to engage students in real-world application of knowledge as they learn the information required for the subject.
By comparison, traditional learning focuses on the classroom familiar to most of us: quizzes, tests, worksheets, and other hallmarks of education that have been around for decades.
The difference is that project based learning brings about a hands-on approach, such as could be found in Sadie Dickson’s English 10 class last semester.
Dickson’s students put on a performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Every aspect of the production was student-centered, from casting to the creation of scenery and costumes, from directing to performing.
Their production, which was open to the public, was so well received it was held over for an extra performance the following week.
Dickson’s project took her students outside of the traditional classroom expectations. They studied the play, as required by the Virginia Standards of Learning, and then took it a step further with the production. They not only came to understand the play, but they studied theatre production, public speaking, and acting while improving their self confidence and the so-called “soft skills” of critical thinking and collaboration.
In the project based model, the role of the student changes because the focus shifts to the project. They take on a greater responsibility for their own learning as they are working to complete the project. The role of the teacher changes as well. Teachers will become facilitators during projects. They will troubleshoot, offer assistance to keep the group collaborating and working, and provide support to groups that includes continuing teaching SOL standards through the project as needed and on a group-by-group basis.
It’s important to note that the traditional classroom approach will not completely disappear. Best practices in the classroom remain best practices and will be used by the teachers at AHS. Students will continue to write essays. Vocabulary and other content tests will not totally disappear. The expectation, however, is that classes will become project based and students will both apply what they’ve learned as well as learning content through the project.
In other words, project based learning teaches the content in a way that educates students to better prepare them for the challenges of the workforce, the military, and college.
Not only is New Tech changing the classroom, the shift in focus is also allowing AHS seniors to spend a part of their final year as interns in local businesses around the community.
According to the New Tech Network, New Tech schools carry a 92 percent graduation rate, 52 percent of their students show growth in critical thinking skills, and 82 percent of their students persist in college in pursuit of their degrees.
Alleghany High School will still be held to the accreditation standards of the state and the federal government. Students who graduate from Alleghany High School will still be able to attend college or join the workforce or military as they wish.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, joint New Tech style classes will be offered. For example, some English and History classes will be paired together, while the Foreign Language departments will work together. These classes will be taught by two teachers (a licensed teacher from each department) and last all year long.
This is an extension of the cross curriculum teaching AHS teachers are already doing. For example, English 9 and 10 students are reading literature from around the world while they are studying the events that shaped literature in their World History classes.
There will be some modification to classrooms at the high school, including expanding classroom size to accommodate students and the projects they create.
These plans were made by committees of school officials, including AHS administrators and faculty.
Project based learning is a departure from traditional learning, and as such will require new training and professional development for teachers.
As with the school system’s 1:1 Initiative, professional development is ongoing even as the school year progresses. Faculty members, for example, will be attending training sessions on Echo, the program’s grading platform, in the coming weeks. In October, the faculty visited Bassett and Magna Vista high schools in southeastern Virginia, where New Tech has been implemented on a school-within-a-school basis.
In addition to ongoing development, AHS faculty members will be required to attend a week long training session at the annual New Tech Conference in St. Louis, MO. The conference is typically held in the summer, and faculty members will travel by bus to the conference.
Work on becoming a New Tech school has been underway for two years. Teachers will attend the New Tech Conference over the course of the next three years.
Ninth and tenth grade classes will be the first to change over to the New Tech focus in the fall of 2018. Eleventh and twelfth grade classes will make the change in 2019, and AHS will become the first whole-school New Tech school in the commonwealth.
A series of informational meetings will be held for the public at Alleghany High School’s Hodnett Hall. The next set of meetings is scheduled for January 29 and will begin at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m.