Next-Generation High Schools encourage at-risk students to stay in school and graduate on time, according to school administrators and students.

Josh Robinson, a 16-year-old student at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Va., said that the connected learning environment of the school keeps him engaged. Before he started school in Albermale County, he was kicked out of various schools for behavior problems.

“Throughout my life I’ve had some struggles,” Robinson said. “I’ve been in and out of homes and living on the streets.”

Even though Robinson had difficulties staying out of trouble, he maintained A’s, B’s, and C’s in his classes.

“I’m a pretty intelligent kid,” Robinson said. “I’ve gotten compliments on how much I’ve done in school.”

When Robinson was put into foster care, he eventually transferred to Albemarle High School.

“My life was like the Titanic hitting an iceberg before I got put in foster care,” Robinson said.

Albemarle High School offers the hands-on, project-based learning that President Obama promoted in November 2015, when the administration gave $375 million in support for Next-Generation High Schools.

Next-Generation High Schools offer personalized and active learning, access to “real-world” and hands-on learning, ties to higher education institutions, and focus on STEM opportunities to students who are underrepresented in those fields.

Albemarle High School teaches students math, science, history, and English, which are divided into two blocks each day. The curriculum focuses on one main topic each day and incorporates connections to the topic within each subject. For example, when the students learned about slope in algebra, they learned about the steepness of mountains in science, they read the book Peak by Roland Smith in English, and they learned about the ancient Egyptian pyramids in history, according to Robinson.

Schools in California and Washington have also incorporated Next-Generation learning in their high schools.

Intel awarded $5 million for pathways in computer science in two high schools in Oakland, Calif.

“Oakland is a city that has everything around us to help us succeed yet everyone expects us to fail,” said Bernard McCune, deputy chief of the Office of Post Secondary Readiness for the Oakland Unified School District.

When the district decided to start using Next-Generation learning techniques, they wanted to “pursue excellence like it slapped our mother,” McCune said.

By 2020, the district hopes that every student will be part of a linked learning pathway, which includes technical education and internships that help students connect what they’re studying to the real world.

The district also made The Oakland Promise, which has raised $25 million from the Oakland community in scholarships for students and incentives for parents.

When Susan Enfield, superintendent of Highline Public Schools in Washington, asked students what they wanted the superintendent to know, they said that they wanted more Advanced Placement (AP) classes, especially in computer science.

“Just because we don’t have a lot doesn’t mean we don’t want to learn how to be successful,” the students told Enfield.

Highline Public Schools is in the fourth year of its strategic plan to achieve a 95 percent graduation rate. When Enfield began as superintendent, the rate was 60 percent.

“I thought the expectation for kids was pretty low when I arrived,” Enfield said. “I don’t believe that only six out of 10 of our kids are capable of graduating.”

This year, the graduation rate is about 75 percent.

The district has invested in early learning to ensure that students have tuition-free, full-day kindergarten. The schools offer the SAT for all students during the school day, placed about 1,000 students into internships that supplement what they’re learning, and added more AP classes.

Enfield said the most important thing to consider while the district reimagines two high school campuses for next year is to ensure that each school offers the same caliber classes and after-school programs so that the students can have equity and parity no matter what school they’re sent to.

“High schoolers deserve everything they need to be empowered in the classroom,” Obama said in a video to the Second Annual White House Summit on Next-Generation High Schools. “We can all do this. It’s all within our reach.”


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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.