High Tech High Draws Faith-based Educators

Students and teachers co-create learning experiences at High Tech High, a San Diego group of charter schools becoming renowned for its unique approach to education. A group of 30 Ontario, faith-based educators recently visited the schools and came home inspired.

High Tech High Draws Faith-based Educators

'The beauty of the system is that it really does engage teachers and students together in seeking the best possible approach to learning'

About 35 people from the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) membership added their eager eyes and ears recently to the more than 2,000 visitors that flock a unique San Diego school system each year.

The group of mostly administrators spent Jan. 22-26 walking the halls of High Tech High, a complex of elementary and secondary schools, speaking with students and teachers and observing the schools’ innovative design principles in practice.

  One hundred per cent of High Tech High  graduates have been accepted to college, 80 per cent to four-year institutions.

“I saw at High Tech High an approach to schools, to learning and to education that is profoundly honouring of students,” says OACS learning consultant Gary VanArragon, reflecting on what excited him most about the possibilities he saw in the High Tech High environment.

“That’s one thing that High Tech High does extremely well. They engage their students in their learning; they respect them and they really give students a lot of control over how and what they do and how and what they learn.

“This is not teacher-directed learning,” he says.

“The beauty of the system, and that was the most exciting part, is that it really does engage teachers and students together in seeking the best possible approach to learning.”

What this experience can yield, the group saw firsthand, and perhaps most profoundly, in an exchange between one of the visiting principals and two High Tech Elementary Grade 4 students.

Asked what they were working on, the nine-year-olds proceeded to explain their project — without teacher support or prompting — why they were doing it, what they hoped to learn and how this fit into the mission and vision of the school.

The two ended their talk by jumping out of their seats and offering to show the principal around the school, which they did — the teacher didn’t bat an eyelid — chattering as they went about what each group in the school was doing and why.

It’s the teachers, VanArragon suggests, that are the “secret sauce” in High Tech High creating the experience it does. These are “passionate teachers, teachers who are committed to engaging students, to empowering students and to challenging students to take responsibility for their own learning, who are willing to step back and say, ‘This is not all about me; this is about the kids.’ ”

Also integral to the success of the school are the students themselves, VanArragon says, adding it’s noteworthy that High Tech High isn’t an elite private school allowing only the brightest to attend, as one might expect. In fact, the school is a publicly funded charter school where students are admitted on the basis of a lottery system, ensuring a complete demographic of people from the area.

Though High Tech High is distinct for a whole list of reasons — starting with its recognition that even the language used to describe schooling needs to change — a top magnet for many is its project-based learning.

VanArragon notes the big draw for the OACS members — some of whom have already introduced project-based learning with success — is that this model is proving to be a powerful way to engage students in what’s come to be called authentic learning, that is, learning that engages students in the world as they experience it.

To learn more about High Tech High, click here.

To learn more about the OACS, click here.

A version of this article was originally posted to the OACS News, and appears here with permission.

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