School swap: From hustle, bustle to mods, lounges

By Kimberly Del Angel
Staff Writer

Being the new kid is always tough. So, I was just a little nervous about going to a new school. Here’s the catch: it was only for a day, and it was just across town.

Coppell is a small community where everyone knows everyone, but high school always seems to be rough on communication between peers. As students venture into their own world at Coppell High School, with a student population of almost 3,000, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unnoticed. When New Tech High @ Coppell was introduced in August 2008, it made keeping in touch even more difficult between students if they chose not to become involved in extracurricular activities such as band, Lariettes, choir or sports because students rarely get to see each other amongst campus.

When I quit band freshman year, I lost most of my connections with my friends attending NTH@C, and after a year without those connections I started to wonder, what exactly is going on over there? What makes New Tech so different from CHS?

My mother is all about tradition, so I never toured the school—convinced my decision was already made, it was just a big question mark across town.

THE CLASSES

A group leader teaches her team members the lesson of the day with Lewis Structures for a project in Scientific Analysis class. Photo by Kimberly Del Angel.

First mod, second mod…mod 22?

At first, the NTH@C schedule may seem a little confusing; I know I was a little puzzled when I first glanced at my classes for the day. Most CHS students are used to a seven period day, but New Tech students have a schedule structured to help students who have a daily commute to CHS for extracurricular activities. The only way to do this was to create a schedule composed of 22 modules, or “mods,” each 20 minutes long, giving students enough time to get to get to CHS and back.

In order for classes to work properly with this structure, students are given designated mods for each class. For example, a student would be in Scientific Analysis (the CHS equivalent to Chemistry) for three mods. After that, students spend four mods in America Studies (English III and U.S. History) and so on. The length of these classes would differ depending on the course.

“English is reading and writing – it is a lot of skill stuff, so we really use the history as a lens to English,” American Studies teacher Randall Ball said. “We are using a lot of English driven skills, analysis, writing, phrasing, stuff like that.”

Unlike CHS, where most students are in class at the same time, NTH@C’s hallways are often bustling with students. Lounges are scattered across the campus to provide a place to sit and relax during lunch, off periods or before and after school.

The main lounge, located across from the front office, also serves as a classroom for Independent Studies, which is implemented into most student schedules at least once during the day. This gives students 20 minutes of down time to do homework, take a break or grab a snack.

New Tech is a bell-free zone, and students are expected to gather their materials and promptly arrive at their next class within three minutes.

TRUST CARDS

Collaboration, Content Literacy, Global Citizenship, Innovation and Evaluation, Oral Communication, Professional Ethics and Written Communication. These seven key points are what make the New Tech system and build the foundation of the “Trust Card” system.

Not only are these trust cards the requirements in rubrics for every assignment, but they also determine the privileges that students receive around campus. With their cards students may go to the bathroom, ask to get a snack or be given special lounge privileges.

Junior Andy Carlsson relaxes in a nearby lounge during Independent Study. Photo by Kimberly Del Angel.

If the student misplaces their card or violates school rules, they must pay a $5 fee to get a new card or get the old one back. In addition to the fee the student must get all of their teachers to sign a form that ultimately decides whether they are allowed to get a new one.
Not all teachers are forgiving of such indiscretions. In one of my classes, when a student asked the teacher to sign his paper, the teacher checked his progress on his assignments in class. He was told afterwards that the form would not be signed until his assignments were turned in at an appropriate completion level.

Project Based Learning

The Project Based Learning (PBL) curriculum is a focus of the education at NTH@C and is often what keeps students from attending the school. Teachers, however, seem to think otherwise.

“New Tech’s philosophy is that it puts more responsibility on the learner,” BioTech Studies teacher Wes Vanicek said. “It’s set up in a fashion that creates a more need-to-know for the information instead of telling the learner what to know. They have projects that have them come to us and tell us they need to know x, y, z, it gets them engaged and actually gets them thinking about what they’re learning.”

Provided technology (a personal laptop throughout the year), however, clouds the PBL system. Because of unmonitored Internet activity throughout the day, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr is free to all.

Luckily, if students have an uncooperative teammate, there is a process that they can undergo to “fire” a team member who is in violation of their “social contract,” a document team members create and sign at the start of each project. In this contract, students assign the role of the group leader and other roles that need to be filled. If they do not comply with these guidelines they may be at risk of confiscation of their trust card.

How you work with students ultimately defines your “reputation”. Some students are not tolerant of slackers, and after attending the school for the first year (maybe even the first month), work accountability becomes everything.

“You know how well people work after a while,” NTH@C junior Dustin Dendy said. “Your reputation spreads and so does theirs; once people hear about you, they will do their work if they know you won’t deal with them otherwise.”

THE AFTERMATH

After attending NTH@C, I can tell you this, I would have never been able to survive. Tradition is what I’m all about, and I would probably have had a meltdown converting from a PC to a Mac. I guess it was also a little weird after three years at CHS to walk down a hallway composed entirely of glass walls and not have to endure 40 agonizing minutes in the morning traffic.

New Tech is different, but it’s doing something great for students, and it is helping develop the skills students will need to be more exposed to in the future. CHS, on the other hand, presents students with numerous course options and opportunities that prepare them for careers they are most interested in.

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