- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

Thirteen-year-old Jazmyne Wade-Muslim does not want to miss a day of school now that she is attending McKinley Technology High School.

The ninth-grader wants to make sure she is in class to learn about technology and how to use it, which is the focus of the D.C.-wide public high school in Northeast.

“It seems like you’re having a lot of fun in class. … You don’t even think you’re doing work. It makes me motivated to come to school,” Jazmyne says at the end of her second day of class.

Jazmyne’s father, Amin Muslim, says Jazmyne likes a challenge. “I like what I think is the expectation being made of students,” he says. “They’re expected to succeed. They’re expected to challenge themselves. That’s what we try to teach her.”

She is among 411 ninth- and 10th-graders who will be taking classic liberal arts courses with the latest information-systems tools available to them. The students, selected through an application and interview process, will be joined by 200 freshmen next year and another 200 freshmen in 2006, which will bring the school to its capacity of about 800 students.

McKinley Technology High School intends to build on the mission of its predecessor, a technical high school, by providing courses designed for the 21st century. McKinley, which was remodeled at a cost of $70 million, has 42 classrooms to offer these courses in a four-period block schedule.

McKinley “respects the past but prepares kids for the future,” says Daniel Gohl, 38, principal of the school. “Kids need to know where their community has come from. This school is rich in tradition and history.”

The school maintains the school colors of McKinley Technical High School, which were gray and burgundy. McKinley Technical opened in 1928 and continued operations until 1997, when it and 10 other schools in the District were closed because of declining enrollment.

“We’re in a historic building,” says Mr. Gohl, an educator of 15 years who for the past six years directed a citywide magnet school in Austin, Texas, that specializes in math, science and technology. “As we sit in a classroom, it’s clear this is a modern facility.”

Each classroom has 30 to 40 high-speed ethernet connections and reception and broadcast capabilities. The building has broadband and high-speed WiFi access, turning the entire building into a wireless hot spot, along with voice-over Internet protocol capabilities to send voice data in digital form.

“What we’re trying to do is show that access to understanding technology is not a specialized field,” Mr. Gohl says. “Reading, writing and mathematics extend to being able to use information technology.”

McKinley students are required to take a rigorous high school curriculum of English, mathematics, history, science and one or more foreign languages along with courses in three areas of technology specialization.

In their freshmen and sophomore years, the students take courses in biomedical technology, information technology and broadcast communications; they focus on one of the subject areas in their last two years for course work and internships.

The students will be taught the content of their courses through the use of individual and group projects based on real-world problems. They will connect what they learn in textbooks to the outside world, gathering some of their information from real-world sources.

They will use high technology instead of pen and paper for several of their assignments, research work and presentations. For example, they might give a presentation in one of their classes by using the PowerPoint computer program instead of poster board.

“These are skills taught in school for many years using paper and pencil,” Mr. Gohl says. “It’s necessary to have students learn professional-quality skills. In the professional world, these tasks are done using computer-based technologies.”

At the same time, Mr. Gohl continues, “we’re trying to make sure students are familiar with pencil and paper and migrating to assignments being digital.”

Students are expected within three years to have one-to-one access to laptops they can bring from class to class. As of now, they have access to 200 computers, a one-to-two computer-to-student ratio.

“The world is turning into a technology-based environment, corporate as well as the government,” says Edith Barnes, technologist at the school. “They’re going to have the experience dealing with the technology hands-on.”

Classrooms are structured to provide students with an atmosphere conducive to learning technology and working individually and with other students. The students sit not at individual desks as in a traditional classroom setting, but at long tables facing each other, Mr. Gohl says.

“It’s a different learning environment than when I was here before because technology is being integrated into their core academics,” says Judy Moore, a 1983 graduate of McKinley Technical High School who returned to her hometown to teach at her alma mater.

Ms. Moore is teaching the foundations, theoretical aspects and practice of broadcast technology. The students in her classes will take what they learn to generate the school’s daily announcements and record sporting events and student performances using digital video cameras, digital video recorders and other equipment.

“You learn by doing,” says Ms. Moore, 38, a former photojournalism and television-production student at the school. “Sometimes reading about it doesn’t make it real.”

English teacher Heather Leenders agrees.

“Kids need a reason for doing what they’re doing,” says Ms. Leenders, 29, who taught in Prince George’s County for six years before coming to McKinley. “Just reading a book isn’t enough for them. If you’re asking them to make something out of what they’ve read, like a Web page or a video, that engages them. Kids need to know why we ask them to do what we ask them to do.”

In her English classes, Ms. Leenders says, she’ll assign her students reading and writing assignments but also expect them to try to publish the assignments in the school’s magazine, online or in other media to learn about the publishing process. She will teach them about publishing, censorship and copyright laws along with giving them traditional assignments.

“They don’t escape the canon,” she says. “I’d like them to see the connection between technology and an English class.”

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