Sophomore Patrice Ezell, 16, enrolled in Gary New Tech High School as a freshman last year because she wanted to try a different way of learning -- beyond text books.
"We've learned how to make movies and prepare for the real world," she said. "We prepared a digital story. We also put together a project where we used the metric system."
Created in Napa, Calif., the New Tech model works within Indiana's state standards and focuses on project-based learning and integrated use of technology in the classroom.
As Gary's new school superintendent Cheryl Pruitt works to redefine the school corporation and the choices it offers students, Gary New Tech is entering its second year.
Housed at Gary Roosevelt last year serving 72 freshmen, this year, the school moved into the Gary Area Career Center and has added 10th grade for a total of 162 students, Principal Esther Goodes said.
Sophomore Raymond Sims, 15, said he saw the New Tech program as a way to refocus himself on education.
"When I was younger, I was getting in trouble and getting suspended. I was worried about passing the ECA algebra test. I did extra work during school and I passed it the first time," he said.
Initially, geo/art teacher Chandra Jacobs was not sure how well she would like the New Tech environment but has become one of its biggest advocates. Geo/art class combines geometry with graphic arts. Jacobs taught at Lew Wallace for 15 years.
"I was a little apprehensive about the technology, but the kids were great and helped out a lot," she said. "After I went to the training, I was a convert."
Jacobs and her students are excited about an upcoming assignment called "My Dream House." Students will work with local contractor Mamon Powers and other professionals to design homes at the former Ivanhoe housing project at the corner of 11th and Chase streets in Gary.
Goodes said the assignment is one of many that shows how New Tech is an effective instructional method to prepare students for competition in a global 21st century workforce.
"Technology is the very important component that will open so many doors for successful careers that our students can relate to and enjoy," she said. "They're already using cellphones, iPads and iPods to acquire research information. They submerge themselves in gaming systems and how they operate and they use computer programs to mix music and make movies."
Goodes said about 100 computers are available to students and they've ordered additional laptops to provide each student computer access.
Goodes also said she and teacher Shannon Brody are the data experts, ensuring that instruction is data-driven.
Gary's New Tech program offers a double-block of algebra to students to ensure they learn lessons, as well as 35 minutes of "success time" each morning to brush up on English, math and other subjects.
Sarah Leiker, a school development coach from the California-based company assigned to monitor Gary New Tech, visits the school monthly. She looks at the curriculum and the rigor of student projects. She said she also looks at the student culture and professional culture, and works with the school on professional development.
Parent Deshanna Alexander of Gary, whose son Oshé Watkins, 15, has been in New Tech for two years, said one of the things she likes about New Tech is the interaction between parents and teachers.
"I can get online and look at the assignments and the work that has been done or that he hasn't turned in," she said. "I can email the teachers. I can sit in the classroom and the teachers are not intimidated or offended; they just go about their normal routine. Overall, I like the personable aspect of New Tech."