Scott’s Branch High School and another small-town school in Colleton County are the focus of a new short film from a nonprofit that has worked with educators in both communities to help improve learning for every child.
“Turning Point South Carolina documents the New Tech Network’s efforts to help students in the towns of Summerton and Walterboro find learning opportunities in their schools that are more relevant to their lives and future.
The 13-minute documentary highlights Cougar Tech Academy at Colleton County High School in Walterboro, and Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton, both in high-poverty communities. Cougar Tech also was recently profiled in an in-depth article in the national nonprofit education newsmagazine “The 74.”
“This wonderful short film shows how powerful changes in schools can affect the lives of students and their communities,” said New Tech Network CEO and President Lydia Dobyns. Based in Napa, California, New Tech works with about 200 schools and 75,000 students nationwide.
Scott’s Branch High School first implemented the program in the 2013-14 school year among its freshman class, adding on each year as that cohort progressed through high school.
“This program provides opportunities to engage students in collaborative learning activities while enhancing their oral and written communication skills,” Dobyn said in a file story. “With New Tech, students will be more empowered through the use of technology to promote college and career readiness.”
Aside from the documentary, Robyn just published a Huffington Post column about the work in both South Carolina schools.
“Our hope is that these communities provide hope and great ideas other schools can use,” she said.
The documentary itself was produced by Duy Linh Tu, a journalism professor at Columbia University in New York, New York. Tu spent time with teachers and students at both schools earlier this year.
AT Scott’s Branch, the improvements in student achievement and graduation rates have lifted the school to its first good ratings on state report cards.
“For us, we felt it was a natural fit for our rural school district,” says Clarendon School District 1 Superintendent Barbara Ragin Champagne in the documentary.
Learning new communications and other skills using technology is helping Scott’s Branch students become “confident in who they are, being confident in where they come from, letting them know your start does not have to in any way hamper your finish,” teacher Detrice Brown says in the documentary.
“We are at a turning point,” Colleton County High School Principal Melissa Crosby says in the documentary. “I’m extremely excited that we’re on the front end of this change, and I’m hoping that every school within the state of South Carolina takes a close look at this model.”
Crosby’s school is now expanding New Tech from its Cougar New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy to reach more students in the school’s Health Careers Academy, and the school district is implementing the model at Bells Elementary School in the Ruffin community.
“The promise we made to the students and the parents is that they would be engaged all four years in work that was meaningful and authentic to them,” Crosby added, noting the program’s 100-percent graduation rate. “We’ve held that promise.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. “Dick” Riley, a native of Greenville and a former two-term governor of South Carolina, helped to bring the idea for New Tech Schools to the state. After visiting New Tech High School in California, he conferred with his colleagues at the Riley Institute at Furman University, his alma mater.
Later, the Riley Institute pursued a U.S. Department of Education grant in partnership with KnowledgeWorks Foundation that led to the two rural schools joining the New Tech Network.
New Tech Network works with schools and communities in 28 states on research-based strategies to transform schools into more innovative learning environments. Research shows vast improvements in many of the schools that are part of the network, in which educators can tap into in-school coaching and a national network of colleagues and experts.
Several other schools across South Carolina also partner with New Tech Network and have seen major improvements in student achievement and engagement, including Carolina High Academy and J.L. Mann High School in Greenville; Brookland-Cayce High School in Cayce; Burke High School in Charleston; McNair Junior High School and Lake City High School in Lake City; and Myrtle Beach High School.
You may view the documentary by visiting www.turningpointsouthcarolina.com.