New tech network school comes to Georgetown

June 1, 2018
Mountain Democrat

An excited community gathering helped Georgetown School educators cut the ceremonial ribbon that ushered in a future filled with promise and a new, exclusive name – GT School of Innovation. The nationally recognized, high-performing New Tech Network (NTN) accepted the school as one of their own after an extensive application process. GT School of Innovation serves third through sixth-grade students who experience project-based STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) learning that strengthens critical-thinking skills through a hands-on approach to problem-solving. Students go online for research, mathematics and reading support for a limited amount of time, and parents can access their student’s desktop through a new learning management system. More than 50 percent of the school day is centered on projects, active experiments, and study trips. Teachers partner with groups such as University of California Cal-fresh Nutrition Education to enhance their lessons into real-world applications.

Principal Wendy Westsmith explained that for months, school administrators and teachers conducted extensive research while exploring the idea for a change.

“In April, stakeholders researched various project-based approaches throughout the country including High Tech High Schools in San Diego, the Buck Institute and several others. This research pointed us toward NTN which is a nonprofit organization that partners with selected schools to design comprehensive school change,” Westsmith said. “Our team believes one of its most attractive features is educating students through a combination of social/emotional growth and the development of critical-thinking skills through project-based learning to best prepare them to be successful in an unpredictable future. Our relationship with NTN was a natural outcome from these beginnings and will lead us as students and a community toward a brighter more productive future. The Black Oak Mine Unified School District (BOMUSD) Board supported parents and staff every step of the way.”

Extensive training provided the tools necessary to implement lessons before the end of this school year and educators will become immersed in additional, national training over the summer.

“Our team learned about this concept and passionately embraced the opportunity to elevate our school to the next level,” Westsmith said. “I appreciate their wholehearted efforts to ensure we are successful. Year after year our students will receive these lifelong educational benefits.”

BOMUSD superintendent Jeremy Meyers championed the enterprise during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“This evening is a testament to how BOMUSD engages and listens to our parents who wanted an increased instructional priority placed on technology and innovation,” Meyers said. “I’m proud of our educators who developed their vision into an inspiring reality for students.”

After the ceremony, an open house provided attendees a window into the programmatic changes that educators implemented this year. Classrooms displayed student project work such as videos and demonstration areas including “Force and Motion” to highlight cars and marble mazes engineered by students. Wendy Appleby, K-1 teacher, painted a verbal picture of her everyday classroom, “The NTN philosophy differs greatly from the traditional lecture model. We give our students a project goal and guidance, and they work the problem until they discover a solution. My classroom is busier and noisier now, but it is extremely focused. The number of disciplinary issues has diminished completely because our students are engaged in these hands-on activities.”

Outside on the basketball courts, students hosted booths to showcase their nutrition-based projects including a seeding station with various plants and smoothie tasting table with treats consisting of produce from the school’s garden. Sixth-grade students, Trinity Cross and Shania Cleve, gave evidence-based presentations like professional spokespeople to convey the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “We did our research and realized that a lot of people in our county are obese. If we show people the data, maybe it will make them think that they have to do something to become healthy,” Trinity explained.

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