One of the most important decisions a parent will ever make is determining what schools their children will attend. “When I enrolled my son, Kilian, as a freshman at Napa New Tech High School (located in Napa, CA and part of the New Tech Network (NTN), I didn’t know what to expect,” said Beth Fitzgerald. “As an informed parent, I knew the school shared my values of respect, trust and responsibility, but I didn’t know much about their educational philosophy of Project-Based Learning (PBL). I had no idea about the deep and authentic work that is actually taking place at Napa New Tech. I ended up loving the school’s method of teaching – but most important so did my son and later on, my daughter, Rory.”
There is a “learning curve” around Project-Based Learning. “PBL is hard to understand until you have a child attending a PBL school and then it all makes sense. I know my children will be working in groups and making many presentations.”
“There’s a misconception that there’s not as many educational challenges with group work,” said Beth. “But to be successful at Project-Based Learning, you must have a ‘mastery of knowledge’ to do the project. Those who think that PBL is not challenging do not understand the modality.”
Kilian is currently applying to college and repeatedly Beth sees reasons why New Tech was the right choice for his high school experience. “Colleges want critical thinkers and students who want to learn,” she explained. “But how can you ‘love learning’ if you’re just sitting in a classroom taking notes? Students at New Tech are not only reading and answering questions. They are learning to see the bigger picture.” Beth continued, “Kilian loves the intellectual community at New Tech where the students who are there really want to learn.”
Students learn Agency – the ability to appreciate hard challenges as opportunities to learn rather than feeling inadequate when things don’t come easy or fast. Agency is one of New Tech’s learning outcomes; the other New Tech outcomes are collaboration, oral communication, written communication and knowledge and thinking.
As an example of Kilian’s use of critical thinking, Beth described a “Catcher in the Rye” assignment where Kilian prepared a social media page for Holden Caulfield. Other examples of critical thinking include a pitch to a studio exec for a TV documentary in an American Studies class as well as a debate on fracking.
“The debate showcased how knowledgeable the students were,” said Beth. “It demonstrated they were prepared to answer really tough questions. The New Tech educational philosophy helps produce students that are self-directed learners with strong work ethics.”
Another example of critical thinking was how Kilian wrote the “Common App Essay” for his college applications. “He had to write about himself and that’s very tough for most of us,” explained Beth. “He wrote the first draft and wasn’t pleased with it, so he re-wrote it, but this time, he imagined it from a movie director’s perspective. He was able to portray his ‘authentic self’ because he imagined himself one step removed. Because he had learned the skill of problem-solving, he was able to complete the project.”
“Kilian used to get nervous before each presentation because he is shy and quiet,” said Beth. “Now he is so much more comfortable that he chose to have in-person interviews for college admission even when that was an optional decision. He has blossomed and grown in a very tangible way when it comes to his presentation skills.”
While communication skills are a key component of Kilian’s college and career readiness, Kilian cites his internship, which all NTN students must complete to graduate, as one way New Tech allows him to connect with his passion. Kilian is interning at the Napa Historical Society. “He loves to write, and he is writing blogs and articles on topics of historical interest that are published on the Historical Society’s site.”
Kilian is already taking college classes as part of the NTN program. “This is the real evidence of being ‘college ready,'” said Beth. “These students are actually doing the work. This is one of the best ways to show a college that you are ‘college ready.’ It demonstrates to the admissions officers that you can be successful in college.
“I love the school,” said Beth. “The skills Kilian and Rory are learning will prepare them for the lives they will lead after high school. I feel confident they will achieve success whatever they do in college and in their careers. I am a happy parent! “