LAGRANGE — Lakeland High School principal Eva Merkel is excited as she talks about her school’s recent transformation into a New Tech school called Lakeland’s Leading EDGE.“The goal is to change a dinosaur that has been high school and prepare students for the 21st century,” said Merkel. “Our graduates need to be able to be creative and innovative and think outside the box. We’ve been keeping them in the box too long.”About two years ago, the Lakeland school board began brainstorming ideas to address these and other issues.They ultimately decided to join the New Tech Network, an organization that works with schools, districts and communities to develop innovative public high schools. More than 60 schools in 14 states use the New Tech model, which centers on project-based learning.For example, a project in Lakeland’s media communications class requires students to create print, radio and television advertisements for local businesses. Upon completion, local businesses critique the students’ advertisements.“It has more meaning when a businessperson tells a student what works and what does not than if a teacher was to tell them,” said Jason Schackow, media communications teacher at Lakeland High School. “If a business does not like the ad, it isn’t going to use it. It gives students a sense of what life is like in the real workplace.”Another project has students turning a short story into a movie trailer. Then they pitch it as a full-length movie.“They are learning persuasion at the same time they are learning visual arts also,” Schackow said. “That is something I love about New Tech. You are teaching a lot of things at once.”There is an interdisciplinary aspect to the New Tech model, meaning certain classes are combined with other classes. As an example, Merkel said the first part of biology has combined with computer applications.“Teachers were already using a lot of graphing and a lot of presentation materials, so it seemed like a good idea to combine these two courses and make it more relevant for kids,” Merkel said.Students will also be given more comprehensive report cards. In addition to a letter grade reflecting a student’s mastery of course content, students will be given grades based on written communication, oral communication, work ethic, collaboration and creative problem solving.“We are breaking it down so they understand that it is not just memorizing and spitting it back out and I get an A in the class,” Merkel said. “It is all the little pieces that go together.”Freshman and sophomore classes will get the full New Tech experience and will be able to graduate with the Leading EDGE diploma.Merkel encourages people to attend an open house on Lakeland’s Leading EDGE at 7 p.m. on Sept. 29.
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