YPSILANTI-There was a field trip on just the third day of the school year at Ypsilanti New Tech High School @ Ardis, but it wasn’t students doing the traveling. Instead, the school itself was the destination, for Greg Darnieder, Education Secretary Duncan’s senior advisor on the College Access Initiative, who visited the school as part of ED’s back-to-school tour through the Midwest.
As one of ten schools in Michigan’s New Technology High School Network, Ypsilanti New Tech @ Ardis employs the system’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach to “use technology and inquiry to engage students with issues and questions that are relevant to their lives,” according to promotional materials.
The public school, in just its second year of operation, is funded in part by more than $1.2 million in Federal Title II support to the state of Michigan that has helped seed six New Tech schools.
Darnieder toured several classes at the school, including Geo(graphy)Tech and PhysicsTech, guided by sophomores Kelsey Scott and Zachery Roberson.
While the campus bristles with high-end technology like high-definition cameras, flat screen TVs and laptop computers, school officials say the goal is for students to embrace technology – in all its forms – as a tool to advance learning.
Scott and Roberson enthusiastically endorsed the approach, describing a class project from their freshmen year where students put together a multimedia project on the Roaring 20’s, including producing a newspaper, videos and class presentations built around research into the technological developments, significant events and important figures of the time.
“It’s a really fun way to learn,” Scott said, “and you don’t even realize until later how much you have learned.”
Holly Heaviland, director of the New Tech network in Michigan’s Washtenaw county, explained to Darnieder that the school strives to “marry innovations with other things kids need,” including strategies to increase college access. She introduced him to two teams of College Advising Corps members from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Together, the teams provide valuable college counseling support to 33 Michigan urban and rural schools.
“You guys are in a key role,” Darnieder told the group, mentioning President Obama’s goal of reaching 8.2 million new college graduates by 2020. “I want to thank you for stepping out there and venturing into the land of young people. So much of success in this area is about building relationships. It’s about academics, too, but especially for first generation college-going students, success revolves around relationships.”
His point was echoed by Joilyn Stephenson, a member of the University of Michigan college advising corps. “A lot of people don’t realize that these students are helping us as well,” Stephenson said. When we can see some of the challenges they’re overcoming, it encourages us to do our best.”
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