By Tracy Correa
NIPOMO — Two years ago, PG&E President Chris Johns joined school officials in breaking ground for Central Coast New Tech High School.
It was little more than a vacant dirt lot in the San Luis Obispo County city of Nipomo at the time. But, armed with a $250,000 PG&E grant, there were big plans for an innovative center for learning.
Today, the New Tech campus — in the Lucia Mar Unified School District — is bustling with activity. And any one of the roughly 200 students will tell you their school — with its focus on hands-on learning using cutting-edge technology — is the best.
“At a traditional school, the focus is only on how much the student knows about a subject, while here, we focus on getting skills while working on a project,” said Ross Kesselring, a student at the school.
The school is part of the New Tech Network, a Napa-based nonprofit that works with communities to create high schools focused on project-based learning.
There are 135 such schools in 23 U.S. states and Australia that engage students with dynamic and rigorous curriculum.
PG&E is a strong supporter of education, including programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — and innovative learning.
At New Tech, student involvement is key — and not just in the classroom. Here students designed stairs in a common area where a dirt mound once stood. They came up with blueprints and pricing and had a say in what it would look like.
“It’s exciting to know that I’m making a difference in my school in something that is going to stay here for forever,” said student Kaylin Stewart, who will be one of the first to graduate at the school in a few years.
Students get things done working together — a focus at this school. Another difference: Student desks don’t face the front of classrooms; instead they are grouped in clusters. Students rely on laptops instead of books. And, instead of written tests, they create hands-on projects to demonstrate their grasp of a subject.
A CSI-like video, in which students solved a crime, showcased knowledge of a biology unit that included genetics and blood-typing.
Principal Dan Neff said how students learn is different and it’s what keeps them engaged. And, the school couldn’t have opened without PG&E’s help.
“They’ve been a huge partner and we feel very fortunate that they’ve provided that for us and we look to continue our relationship,” said Neff.
Next year, more students will enter Central Coast New Tech High School and the school will graduate its first class in 2016.
Email Tracy Correa at firstname.lastname@example.org.