Danville opens New Tech House to freshmen

Danville opens New Tech House to freshmen

DANVILLE — Danville eighth-graders and their parents on Tuesday will have a chance to learn about one of the high school's "upper houses," which will be open to a limited number of freshmen for the first time next year.

Informational meetings about Danville New Tech House will be held at 5 p.m. at North Ridge Middle School's cafetorium, 1619 N. Jackson St., and at 6:30 p.m. at South View Middle School's cafetorium, 133 E. Ninth St.

Assistant Principal and New Tech Director Darin Chambliss — along with staff and students and high school Principal Phil Cox — will provide an overview of the program and what it offers students and answer questions.

Modeled on the Napa New Technology High School in California, New Tech uses a project-based learning approach to prepare students to be college and/or career ready. When the program was established locally in 2009, it was one of 26 in the nation. There are now 140.

Since launching in Danville, the program has only been open to sophomores through seniors. Ninth-graders start their high-school career in Freshmen House, and then move to an upper house — which also includes ACE (Academy of Creative Experiences) House or GLOBAL (Global Leadership Outlooks through Business, Action and Learning) House — in tenth grade.

However, in April, the school board approved opening the program to 50 freshmen on administrators' recommendation.

"Project-based learning is a completely different teaching style," Chambliss said.

"The teachers pose authentic, real-world problems or projects for the students, and then kind of act as their guide or coach along the way," he explained. Students gain information and critical thinking, communication and other 21st-century skills through the projects, he said.

Other New Tech programs are designed to introduce the pedagogy in ninth grade to make the most of students' four years in high school. Chambliss said opening the program to Danville freshmen will give them that same advantage.

"Now students are basically having to transition twice — into high school as freshmen and then into New Tech the next year," he said. "It makes more sense to transition them right into the program. ... I'm really excited about this. It's going to strengthen our ability to have student success at the post-secondary level."

Chambliss is eager to dispel some myths, including that New Tech students can't take fine arts or other electives or that the program is all about computers "and if you're not a techie, this isn't the right house for you. This model is based on best practices and the skills that people say kids are going to need to be successful in college and their career."

He added that teachers and students are eager to share some of the projects they've done this year. For example, sophomores studied the Civil Rights movement in their political studies class, then wrote a children's book on the subject that was read to Liberty and Cannon Elementary students.

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