Originally published Oct. 28, 2010.
Everything's going well in Huntington North High School's new school within a school, administrators say.
The "New Tech" program opened this fall, based on a model that emphasizes project-based learning and collaboration with heavy reliance on computers.
Viking New Tech Director Kelly Renier reports that after the first quarter of VNT's inaugural year, students are finding their niche.
"I am definitely impressed with how well the students have adapted to just being in a different environment and being in a different setting," she says. "The proof of that is when they speak to guests who come in from the outside."
Renier believes students are showing pride in the program.
"Students are doing well," she says. "We've got some kids who are struggling, but that's to be expected. It kind of depends on the individual student and also, somewhat, the subject matter as well."
Academically, Renier says, there are no big surprises. Teachers can see an overall growth in the students, she adds. They monitor grades and are able to pinpoint a student's strengths and weaknesses in different areas.
One skill Renier says the staff will continue to work on with their students is time management - an issue she says isn't specific to New Tech, but is something all students face.
In order to improve on their time management, Renier says students have a series of preliminary mini-deadlines for their projects, either placed by the students themselves or by the teacher.
Since the start of the year, two groups have been established to provide students and parents a chance to give input into the new school program.
Viking Voice was created for students, Renier explains, and is a student council specific to New Tech. It allows students to tell the VNT staff what they want to see in the program.
Another group was made for VNT parents.
"We've got a parent advisory team right now that we've gotten a little bit of feedback from and met with a small group of parents just to get their perspective on things as well, for what they are needing from us as far as information is concerned," Renier says. Newsletters are sent out on a regular basis to keep informed.
Parents were also invited to the VNT Parent Open House on Wednesday, Oct. 20 - the night of parent-teacher conferences - to see what their students are doing. They also learned about ECHO, the online program New Tech students and staff use daily, Renier says.
Among the information included in ECHO are agendas, projects and grades.
Even though the school year is well under way, VNT teachers continue to receive professional development through initial grant money.
Midwest sessions of Meeting of the Minds - sessions gave teachers in specific fields, the opportunity to get together and trade project ideas - were held at New Tech schools in Indiana this fall, Renier says.
In addition, she and the teachers are taking advantage of a New Tech Network to learn from people who are experienced in the program.
Through the network, VNT was assigned a New Tech coach, Kelley McKaig. Renier says someone from VNT is in contact with McKaig almost daily. The coach spent Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 20 and 21, on site to help VNT teachers.
She was also in town before school started, Renier says, and will keep coming back throughout the first year.
"It's a great opportunity for us to have her come visit our school because not only is she a coach for
the network, but she was a teacher in a New Tech school, so she's got that perspective as well," Renier says. I also provides someone from the outside to help, she says, not just achers on their performance.
"We've definitely used the Network,"Renier says. "It's been wonderful for us so far and I don't anticipate that changing."
Throughout the rest of the year, VNT staff wants to see continued growth in the students and see them to take more ownership in the program, Renier says. They will also continue to work with struggling students.
The focus for VNT is to make sure students are getting the education they deserve, Renier continues, by "being true to the New Tech model" and that commitment as well as reaching Indiana academic standards.
The staff is already prepping for the program's second year, in which VNT will see both sophomores and freshmen.
Renier says they will keep building the program but also serving the current students at the same time.
Complete caption: Viking New Tech students (from left) Robert Sliger, Tyler Henline, Skyler Wilery, Cade Abbett and Laren McCullough work on their Global Perspectives’ project on Monday, Oct. 11. The goal of the project is to get multiple cultures to live together on an island. VNT Director Kelly Renier is impressed with where the students are after the first quarter of the program’s implementation.