New classrooms greet many students in a few weeks

August 4, 2017
Greenville Online

As Gershwin and DuBose Heyward might have put it:

Summertime, and the construction is frenzied.

As Greenville and Anderson students return to school in a few weeks, they’ll be greeted by a host of new facilities: classrooms, tennis courts, computers, athletic equipment.

Construction accelerates into overdrive in summer as workers strive to meet the beginning-of-school deadline: this year, Aug. 22.

Several Greenville school projects, however, will continue throughout the school year. Rudolph Gordon Elementary, for instance, is being expanded to include the middle grades.

The Enoree Career Center will add space for welding and machine tool courses and more culinary arts classes.

A new high school and elementary school have been approved by the Greenville school board, and planning is underway.

A big debut

There’s one big debut taking place in just a few weeks: an approximately 54,000-square-foot addition to J.L. Mann High School, with room for up to 600 students.

The new wing — now simply called Building B — will house the NewTech@Mann program, with an education model that emphasizes project-based learning.

The new addition has been under construction for more than two years.

“There were some construction delays, so we’re getting the last few things installed now,” said Cindy Alsip, director of NewTech@Mann. “We expect to be ready when kids get here in a couple of weeks.”

Spaces in the new Building B are a far cry from the traditional lecture-style classroom.

To some, Building B may resemble a high-tech workplace rather than a school room.

There are expandable classrooms and larger science labs to accommodate single and combined classes, according to the school district.

Three student rooms with media tables allow students to collaborate. Three common areas give students the chance to meet in groups and work together.

All classrooms are surrounded by glass to give students more movement and still be supervised.

“The building is beautiful,” Alsip said. “Every corner we’ve put into that building has purpose.”

Innovative approach

Now in its fourth year, NewTech@Mann re-envisions the standard approach to teaching and learning, with an emphasis on projects and student teamwork.

Few textbooks are used. All students are issued laptops and most research involves digital sources.

“Our culture is very different,” Alsip said. “There is some individual work but they have to learn to work within a team.”

Often, teachers in two subjects will work with students in one classroom. Several subjects are combined: English with social studies, algebra with scientific research, and geometry with engineering.

“It works really well,” Alsip said. “It helps kids make connections, not just within a content area but within two, and when you do that, you keep it. You remember that.”

Alsip offers an example of how geometry is combined with engineering through project-based tasks: Students study circle-related geometric principles while designing a tire. In the past, tire-manufacturer Michelin has sent engineers to New Tech classrooms to work with students on tire design. Later, the engineers have chosen the best student-designed tires and created them, with a 3-D printer, for the students to keep, Alsip said.


Conversely, a teacher might work with small groups of students while other students collaborate with each other on projects.

“Sometimes you can’t find the teacher in the classroom but it’s not because the teacher is not there,” Alsip said. “It’s because he or she is sitting with a group, consulting with kids.”

Every project ends with a formal presentation: a public speaking skill that may prove valuable for students later in their working lives.

“They have to learn how to communicate not only what they learned but what they did — the problem they solved or the product they created,” Alsip said.

NewTech@Mann accepts as many as 150 freshmen a year. J.L. Mann High School is expected to have a total student population of 1,900 students.

“We consider ourselves a school within a school,” Alsip said of NewTech@Mann.

Test scores up

The past three years of the program have been a success, Alsip said.

“I have seen test scores go up,” she said. “The kids are enjoying it. We’ve found great success with it. So we’re supporting it with a building built for it.”

The program for the past three years has been utilizing a hallway in the main building. The hallway will now be available for other and perhaps more traditional classes.

Alsip admitted that some parents are wary of the New Tech approach to learning: After all, it was not the way previous generations learned.

Alsip herself was skeptical of the program until she visited a New Tech school several years ago in Dallas.

“I saw the way the kids were interacting and functioning on their own: very autonomous, making decisions, thinking critically, problem solving, without someone showing them the way,” Alsip said. “They were on fire because they were finding solutions themselves.”

To help parents and others understand the program, J.L. Mann opens the doors to NewTech@Mann every Tuesday throughout the school year for adults who want to learn more.

“We’ve had a really good response to it because people are curious,” Alsip said.

Although NewTech@Mann will dominate Building B, the new space will provide room for other classes as well, such as in special education.

Other students will earn college credit in dual-enrollment classes taught by Greenville Tech instructors.

Yet another competitive program in Building B is called “Accelerate,” with an enrollment of only nine students.

Sponsored by the Governor’s School for Math and Science, the program offers distance-learning opportunities for students who earn college credit by taking several classes with Clemson University professors.

“They come out of there with almost two full years of college credit at Clemson,” Alsip said.

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