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Is d.tech Creating Good Students?

Maria McAlister-Young | mmcalisteryoung19@dtechhs.org | March 10, 2019

Two self-directed d.tech students hard at work. Photo by Hezekiah Smithstein

What makes someone a good student? Is it the prototypical A+ student, who takes 5 AP classes? Or is it something else? Maybe it’s someone who is ready to create change in the world. At d.tech, the focus is primarily on creating students who are self-directed and interested in making the world a better place, but is this what a good student is? As a school, should d.tech be more focused on college preparation?

It’s hard to list the qualities of a “good student” as there are many different attributes that apply, but almost everyone agrees that good students are generally responsible and interested in their work. Nicole Cerra, Director of Learning, says “A good student is somebody who is motivated to learn, not just to collect points or check boxes or get a grade.”

Many students agree the things d.tech values will be helpful in the real world outside of education. As senior Thomas Weese explains, many d.tech students feel “relatively prepared to get a job and be a functioning member of society after college, but not prepared for college itself.” There are a lot more choices students have to make at d.tech, namely Intersession, lab days, and other opportunities like internships. As a result, there is a lot of responsibility for students to follow through on their work and promises. Though it does mirror college, Cerra feels that it reflects the real world, or “adult world” as Cerra calls it. As she explains, “When you’re an adult, you do have a lot of choices, but it’s important to learn how to make a choice, follow through, and make it what you want it to be.”

Though d.tech teachings result in students feel ready to interact in the world, many students expressed concern over the leniency of d.tech revision and deadline policy. Weese admitted to being able to “skate by without turning things on time and hoping that teachers don’t penalize me for it” adding that “it doesn’t actually matter whether you turn it in like two days late or two weeks late because it’s still 80 percent.” Junior Alannah Forster agrees, saying that many students are able to “get by on the allowances d.tech gives, which is an issue.”

Because d.tech revision policy allows students to revise up to a 100 percent on their first revision, some students feel there is no reason to turn in a completed assignment, as you can always finish it later. “[The revision policy] is helpful to a certain extent,” admits Rachel Siegman, a senior English teacher. She adds that “some students do revise just to get a 75 and not learn anything. But if you are revising because you generally want to improve your work, I think that should be honored.”

Unfortunately, colleges don’t have this type of policy. As a result, most d.tech students may face a tough adjustment period, as they adjust to not having the  extra time and ability to revise and finish their work past the due date. “[The revision policy] allows students to procrastinate more. d.tech doing that kind of thing isn’t preparing us for college,” says senior Alexxus Faalogoifo.

Additionally, the workload at d.tech is significantly lighter than at other more traditional high schools. Echoing the thoughts of many, sophomore Arwyn Guinto expressed concern over the fact that when “we go to college, we will have to adjust to the higher amounts of work, and learn how to manage out time and deal with the stress of all the work.” However, though Cerra admits that she’s been worried about that, the “kids who go to community college don’t have a hard time understanding that deadlines are final and that [the deadlines] are not as flexible as they are here.” She feels that because d.tech students are able to make that jump between d.tech and community college classes, they will be able to make the same jump between d.tech and a two or four year university. Cerra adds that “many alumni have said that they were glad they took at least one CSM class to get the feel for that kind of structure.”

In college, students do have to study and learn how to take notes while someone is lecturing, as many classes are in this format. Alexa Noveas Nichols, a former d.tech student who now attends Middle College, admitted that she had to “learn how to study again because I didn’t really have to study at d.tech.” Similarly, College Counselor Kathleen Odell, believes that the biggest shocks for d.tech students starting college are the finals and midterms, as d.tech students have neither. Although d.tech does not spend much time on test prep, d.tech students express that they do learn more about the material and are able to go deeper and really dive into a topic that they are interested in if they want to. Forster says that at d.tech, she has the “ability to learn and understand the conceptual element of things, such as why things are happening the way they are, instead of just what is happening.”

Odell emphasized this, saying that many other schools are more interested in teaching students, rather than they helping the students learn. There, Odell says, the teachers teach material for an AP tests, and students are expected to memorize the information for the test, and only for a test. “Whereas d.tech is not so much ‘I’m going to teach you that the one solution to the problem is x’ but ‘I’m giving you the problem and you’re going to come at it from a bunch of different ways,’” Odell explains, “Students at d.tech are going to quickly come up with a solution and test it instead of spreading a ton of time coming up with the perfect thing that doesn’t actually solve the problem. And that, to me, is learning.”

In addition to being able to understand why and how something works, not just memorizing facts to repeat back to the teacher, d.tech students are generally “better than their peers in college at self-direction,” says Cerra, mentioning that “Every Thursday is an opportunity for d.tech students to practice making good choices.” Faalogoifo agrees, “They’re really good with giving us freedom and helping us with self-direction.”

Not only are d.tech’s students taught how to become self-directed and independent, but they also learn time management skills through projects and other opportunities that d.tech offers. “They push us towards more projects so you need to learn how to communicate with your teachers and learn time management,” Guinto expresses. “That’s the kinds of things that people should learn how to do for themselves and d.tech has really helped me with that.” Forster explains, “The world is full of different, crazy things going on. At d.tech, with everything that is happening, we learn how to live with the craziness and learn how to be able to work in an environment where there’s a lot that’s going on.”

Communicating with professors and individuals outside of school is arguably the most important skill one can have both in school and in the workplace. Students at d.tech are very good at advocating for themselves. If they need extensions for any reason or need help understanding material, they are able to do so respectfully and clearly. This skill comes in part because of the revision policy, which means that this ability is “rarely learned at other schools,’ says Siegman. Cerra adds, “Because our students have a lot of interaction with professionals outside d.tech, there’s a lot of other adults that they come into contact with. And this helps them when they get to college, as they are not intimidated by talking with a professor or someone in another industry they are interested in.” As a result of both self-direction and the ability to communicate, many d.tech graduates have started their own clubs and projects at their new school.

College is an adjustment period for everyone, but it appears that d.tech students have the ability to adapt faster as a result of the school structure. d.tech instills in its students a desire to learn and impact the world. It teaches students how to be creative, through projects and Design Lab; adaptable, through the many different changes during the school year; self-directed, through lab days and internships; and responsible, through trusting us to work cohesively with different industry professionals. These values and skills are incredibly important, but can be hard to measure. However, the experiences students have at d.tech can only help them in college. Odell explains, “The students coming out of d.tech at least have the idea of self-direction and the idea that school is their responsibility, so they are ready to take more ownership for their learning. If you can do that in high school you’ll be way ahead of the game in college and life.”

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