Napa Junction Elementary named New Tech ‘demonstration site’

December 28, 2016
Napa Valley Register

Napa Junction Elementary School can now officially show off its 21st century curriculum, having been named a “national demonstration site” by the New Technology Network.

The honor, which likely will attract educators from far and wide to the campus, is an important achievement for Napa Junction because of its age and former reputation as a school that wasn’t well respected, according to Principal Donna Drago.

“Becoming a demo site is big because it’s helping to change the school’s reputation,” said Drago, who took over the school seven years ago, when it was still a traditional K-5 elementary.

Napa Junction, built in the 1950s, is American Canyon’s oldest school. Because of its proximity to what once was a county dump in the unincorporated area, the school was disparaged as “Napa Junkyard,” said Drago.

“The dregs of society” was how people referred to the school’s students, many of them from low-income families, said Drago.

But that’s changing now, she added, thanks to decisions made four years ago to switch Napa Junction to the New Tech school model, as well as becoming a federal magnet school for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

“We really wanted to change our program,” Drago said, “but we also wanted to change the opinion of the community” about the school.

The New Tech Network selected Napa Junction as a demonstration site after it showed “successful implementation” of the New Tech school model, according to a press release.

“The school had to develop a clear set of student learning outcomes consistent with skills required to succeed in college, career or civic life,” the release stated. “These include content mastery tied to state standards as well as work ethic/collaboration, critical thinking and oral and written communication. All courses demonstrated rigorous and relevant Project-Based Learning (PBL) to amplify deeper learning while engaging students in the classroom.”

Napa Junction now has “deep integration and use of technology” in all of its classrooms, according to New Tech Network.

Its new role as a demonstration site means Napa Junction will host tours for national, state and local schools and districts that want to learn about the New Tech model.

Drago said even before receiving the designation, her school had attracted visiting educators from across the U.S. and from overseas, including China, Denmark and Australia.

Progress as a New Tech school also means more opportunities for Napa Junction students, the majority of whom are Hispanic and from poor families.

The large number of low-income students in attendance has given Napa Junction a third designation in addition to being a New Tech demo site and a STEM school — that as a Title I school, as deemed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Drago says the switch to a curriculum focused on math, science and engineering has put her “kiddos” on a path to a better future and more opportunities to succeed as adults.

“We want our kids to break that cycle [of poverty],” said Drago. “We want them to be hungry and engaged, to want to go to college” and actually “go to college.”

Being a New Tech school also could mean more success for students, according to the New Tech Network.

Its 2016 Outcomes Report showed New Tech students graduate from high school at a rate 9 percent greater than the national average, and that 70 percent of them attend college.

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