Rumination on Graduation: Why we are so inspired

May 31, 2011
Lydia Dobyns

Lydia Dobyns

In a few short weeks, NTN students across the country will receive their diplomas signifying the completion of one critical step in the pursuit of a successful life beyond high school. But how does matriculation from a New Tech high school prepare these students for the challenges that lie ahead?

This question is part of a conversation taking place in school districts everywhere in conjunction with the annual graduation ritual. As stakeholders in education, we want to create a high school roadmap for students who possess true “survivor” skills: the abilities to think critically and to take responsibility for their own learning. In today’s academic world, we think it is not enough to revisit and revise our current methods of teaching. We believe that to prepare youth to successfully navigate life’s choices we need to re-imagine education.

But what does re-imagining education mean? What sets NTN schools apart from traditional high schools? If you talk to students who have attended both types of high schools, they will tell you that New Tech schools engage and empower students and learning takes place in a fundamentally different way.

Nicolas Thorwaldson believes it was his experience at Sacramento New Tech that repared him for college and his work in university development. Sacramento New Tech taught him how to collaborate with others as well as how to lead a team. It was his high school experience that gave him the confidence to stand up in front of strangers and peers to make a case for something important to him. We estimate that a New Tech senior graduates having given almost 200 presentations in his or her high school career. How many of us adults would have benefited from this kind of public speaking practice in high school?

Developing a student who can excel in the workplace calls for much more than fulfilling mandatory graduation requirements. It requires taking the educational experience beyond the domain of the “good test taker” – more than a situation where someone who can memorize data can succeed. It is turning high school into an opportunity where students are taught to think, value learning and to discover the relevancy of school.

This type of success is achieved by implementing change at every level, and for every role, in school. NTN schools utilize project-based learning as the core teaching and learning method, making education contextual, creative and shared. Students collaborate on projects that require critical thinking and communication. Learning becomes relevant and students are more engaged. This results in young adults who are prepared for life after high school. Ask Kristal Jacobson and she’ll tell you attending Napa New Technology High School meant she learned how to thrive in the work place and to “think outside the box.”

Our results are gaining national acceptance. New Tech has grown dramatically since the first NTN high school was founded in 1996. We have gone from one school to 62 and soon expect to have close to 90 schools in 16 states across the country. We are now established in every type of community (rural, urban and suburban); in stand-alone and shared campuses; and with schools who started as low performing and those who were good and aimed to be great schools. In short, our success convinces us more than ever that the New Tech model can work anywhere.

With more than two dozen exemplary high schools around the country who have graduated at least one class, New Tech is emerging as a national model for innovation and excellence. Our graduates speak for themselves. Our students surpass their state and local peers in graduation rates as well as in the number of students continuing on successfully to post-high school education. More than numbers, these students also graduate with deep technology skills and the mastery of academic content that further prepares them for their future educational and career lives.

At a recent National School Board Association conference in San Francisco, a New Tech senior, Valeria Mattis, addressed an audience of business and community leaders in a TEDx session. At the conclusion of her presentation, someone stood up and said he hoped we could create an army of New Tech kids. He went on to offer Valeria a job upon graduation.

These are the types of opportunities open to New Tech seniors. Whether it is obtaining a scholarship to attend an art academy and establishing a career in graphic design; or graduating from a University of California campus with a degree in American Studies and Politics and being offered a job on that same college campus upon graduation; or receiving an offer from a leading high tech company to research new ways of computing after graduating from a well-respected university; or being accepted at an Ivy League university that offers a degree program designed to help you achieve your career aspirations, New Tech graduates are part of a new wave of students, entrepreneurs, executives, professionals, scientists and researchers who are following their dreams to enrich their lives. And the best part about their journey is that we all stand to benefit.

So it is with a feeling of tremendous optimism for the future that we say congratulations to the class of 2011. Their success renews our own passion to bring what works to more students everywhere.