Monday, May 23, 2011

Participating in your Community: a true 21st Century Skill

Participating in your community: a true 21st Century Skill
Community involvement has always been a key component of the New Tech model.  The original New Tech High school, founded in Napa, California in 1996, was built on the ideas of that community.  At home in Bloomington, our New Tech started with the Graduation Work Group which consisted of stakeholders from across the community.  Through our first three years, the students and staff at Bloomington New Tech have worked hard to make “community” one of the most valued and respected components of our model.

Our community members are involved in many curricular and school related areas.  As director, I rely heavily on the advice of my community advisory board.  The advisory board is comprised of 11 members of this community and represent business, not-for-profit, 4-year college, 2-year college and the middle schools.  This year alone teachers have involved over 25 community members in the evaluation of student projects.  We know that involving community members increase the relevance and rigor of our projects.  

Below I would like to highlight some of the unique opportunities provided to our students.

Freshman Interview Day & Job Shadow Day:  All of our freshman must have a professional resume that has been meticulously evaluated by Mrs. Novak, our Software and Careers teacher, in preparation for interview day.  Mrs. Novak works closely with the Chamber of Commerce’s Franklin Initiative to bring in professionals to interview each student.  Professional dress is required and it puts a smile on every adult to see our students “dressed for success.”  The interview day is followed the next week by a 1 day job shadow.  The Franklin Initiative and Mrs. Novak work tirelessly to place every freshman in a career of interest.  On the day of the shadowing, it is great to see our students in professional dress headed to the bus stop for the trip to their job shadow. 

Service Learning:  Our Juniors are the pioneers of all we do and service learning is no exception.  This year the juniors organized, fundraised and orchestrated a number of unique community events.  Some of those events are:
·         Masquerade Social  and Silent Auction for Suicide Prevention
·         Technology Courses for adult community members
·         Red Cross Blood Drive
·         Planned Prom
·         Planned New Student Orientation

One of the most exciting events of this year is our participation in the Kaboom 3rd Street Park Build.  Fifty students spent Friday helping The Project School and the Boy’s and Girl’s Club reconstruct 3rd Street Park.  Students helped in all aspects of the build.  When I stopped to check on the progress everyone seemed to be having fun, working hard and enjoying the opportunity to give back to our community.  At the end of the day over 200 community members, even the president of the hospital, will have constructed an entirely new park!

I know that community service and giving back is something that I have learned from the students.   I look forward to next year as we continue to be involved and participate in our community.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Power of the Network - Impacting Student Culture

School culture is the key to success. Anyone that has had an opportunity to visit a New Tech High School will agree that our schools “feel” different. Based on the ideas of trust, respect and responsibility we work closely with our students to create a professional environment. To create and maintain this environment requires hard work from staff and students alike.
In the spring of 2010, the Bloomington New Tech (BNT) had it going. We were wrapping up our first year as a demonstration site and hosting visiting schools weekly. The students were really growing and buying into the idea that school culture should be professional culture and then the budget crisis reached Monroe County. That spring over 70 teachers lost their jobs due to budget cuts. Among the 70 teachers were four of BNT’s most beloved teachers, two of which were founding members of the staff. In their place, five teachers from within the district were involuntarily transferred into BNT.
The students and remaining staff experienced a whirlwind of change, now referred to by the staff as “the perfect storm.” In hindsight, we did not create enough opportunities for the students to grieve the loss of their “family” members. We also underestimated the impact these drastic changes would have on our culture. As a result, the start of the 2011 school year was a disaster. As October arrived along with the first visit from our NTN coach Lee Fleming, we were all reeling and in need of some major changes. With Lee’s help, we put several strategies in place that made an immediate impact. In addition, the students started stepping up and asking, “how can we help?”
In Indiana we are fortunate to have 16 New Tech High schools, several of which are demonstration sites. With the support of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis, the directors meet regularly to discuss issues related to our schools. We have become a close group that relies on each other for support. As a group, we have often talked about allowing our students to visit the other New Techs in the state. Our culture crisis provided a perfect time and reason to facilitate a student shadowing opportunity for our students at BNT. A simple request for a shadowing partner resulted in an opportunity for students from eleven New Techs to experience what life is like at a sister school.
The school shadowing experience was organized around the New Tech principles of knows, need to knows, and next steps. Students at BNT had the opportunity to shadow students at ND21. This provided an additional benefit in that ND21 is a rural school in contrast to Bloomington’s college town atmosphere. Students began their day by meeting their shadow, getting a brief tour and creating a list of knows/need to knows. We then sent them off to experience the life as a ND21 student. At the end of the day, the students were brought back together to review their knows/NTK and create five next steps. These next steps were a critical piece as the students were then charged with taking them back to their school and with the help of their classmates implementing these ideas.
Our students found this experience extremely valuable. They both gained an understanding of the positive aspects at BNT and brought back several ideas of changes to be made. Since both students and staff found this experience to be valuable, I hope the school shadowing is an opportunity that we can provide our students each year.
As a next step for the Indiana directors, we have discussed the possibility of a New Tech Student Leadership Academy wherein students from all 16 schools would visit one site for a day of leadership activities