The first thing one notices upon stepping into the hallways of Niles New Tech is an abundance of technology and a vibe more indicative of a college campus than a high school.
Students hunch over laptops, working on their latest assignment in the common area or listen to a visiting Western Michigan University professor share a lecture on science.
The project-based school offers classes like art biology, where students apply their science skills to artistic projects, like creating bracelets to raise money for cancer research.
Students are also taught critical thinking skills and are challenged to apply the skills they learn in class in creative ways, some of which even help their community, such as the community Health Fair, which students will host Thursday.
Niles New Tech Director Jerry Holtgren said encouraging students to take ownership in their work is also important.
“Our learners, they see themselves in the learning and they see themselves as part of the school,” Holtgren said. “And as a necessary part of the school, because without them we are not creating those different things. Without them we are not creating solutions for people in our community.”
Students and their teachers are not the only ones taking notice of the curriculum’s progress in engaging student learning.
On Friday, May 5, Jerry Holtgren, the Niles New Tech director, along with other school
leaders, were invited by the Michigan Department of Education to share their student model during an Innovation Road Show in Kalamazoo.
Niles New Tech was selected because it exemplifies three focus areas that can help to make a school successful including: well-rounded educational opportunities, safe and healthy students and effective use of technology.
“They wanted us to talk about what is possible and the model that we use,” Holtgren said. “The whole day was about innovative practices.”
New Tech joined 13 other schools in presenting to the MDE as they traveled across the state.
While the MDE visited the New Tech building approximately three years ago, Holtgren said this was the first time the school had been asked to join the Road Show.
The goal of the Road Show is to share classroom strategies that support deeper, more personalized learning. Overall, the MDE hopes to help Michigan become one of the top 10 education states in the next
Holtgren said that the MDE also valued the way Niles New Tech students had worked to form partnerships with the community. The Health Fair is one example, for which students had to talk with local businesses to encourage their participation in the event.
That model is based in critical thinking and project based learning. These are partially achieved through integrated classes, such as the biology and art, where students apply skills they learned in one class in a different form than just taking a test or writing an essay.
“It is taking two concepts to make a real world connection,” Holtgren said.
The MDE will take the variety of different student models to offer different districts ideas about successful educational models, Holtgren said.
Throughout the month of May, the MDE will continue its tour of Michigan, wrapping up the Road Show May 31.
For Holtgren, a successful student model is creating a learning environment that youth want to be part of.
“If they can see themselves here for a reason, they will want to be here,” Holtgren said. “And more importantly a contributing member of our community.”