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Nanakuli High moves to high-tech learning

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    Nanakuli High School students get new laptops as part of the national New Tech program.
    Incoming Nanakuli High School freshman Keryes Poomaihealani unpacked her new laptop at the school yesterday.

Incoming Nanakuli High School freshmen yesterday test-drove new laptops they will use over the coming year as part of an initiative to turn around low-performing schools.

The one-to-one laptop program is an integral part of the national New Tech Network model, which is being used or has been adopted at 62 schools around the country, including Nanakuli and Waianae high schools this year.

The model emphasizes project-based learning and problem-solving and trains teachers to be "facilitators" who guide students in finding answers, rather than telling them what they need to know. New Tech has shown success in improving everything from attendance to test scores.

Yesterday, Nanakuli students and their parents got an introduction to the New Tech model in laptop orientations scheduled throughout the day. In the sessions, students excitedly opened boxes with their computers, got a quick introduction on how to use them and were told that the New Tech model was something they would grow to love.

"You are going to have a very different learning experience," New Tech Network President Monica Martinez told one group of students. "It’s an approach to learning that’s really different. It’s hard but it’s also fun."


» Model aims at turning around low-performing schools, fostering economic development in communities and encouraging students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers.

» Students work in groups on problem-based projects, and teachers act as "facilitators."

» Students learn by seeking out what they need to know (not by being told what they need to know).

» To enroll in the program, schools pay $450,000 for four years of support, professional development and guidance from the New Tech Network, a subsidiary of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

» Some 62 schools (with 15,000 students) around the country have adopted New Tech models — 27 of which are moving to the model this year, including Nanakuli and Waianae high schools.

» The model has shown success in improving attendance, graduation rates and test scores. About three-fourths of schools that adopted the model in its early stages have stuck with it.

For more information, go to

After a morning orientation, several students said they were looking forward to the start of school.

"We’re going to excel," said student Branielle Young-Velarde, adding that Nanakuli students are often "stereotyped" as poor performers. "As a school we can work together."

Student Jarrinn Aipolani said he is proud of his school and is looking forward to seeing it shine. "Nanakuli is not what they expect it to be," he said. "Nanakuli is better."

That is the kind of talk that gives teachers chicken skin. Just ask Cara Cornelison, who said New Tech has gotten her excited about teaching again.

"I think we need to tell these kids not what they can’t do, but what they can do," said the 36-year-old, who has been teaching for 15 years. "It (Nanakuli) absolutely can be turned around. Why not?"

Michael Schaffer, 28, a math teacher at Nanakuli, said New Tech is something he believes will get students interested in learning and coming back day after day.

The entire freshman class of 150 at Nanakuli High School will participate in the New Tech program, while about 200 freshmen at Waianae High School will follow the model.

Each incoming class at Nanakuli will be a New Tech one, so in four years the entire campus will follow the model. Waianae could also go to a complete New Tech campus, but for now it will be one of several academies offered at the school.

The process of choosing the New Tech model for the schools started about 18 months ago, when the Department of Education and several community partners were looking for out-of-the-box ways to turn around struggling campuses.

Kamehameha Schools donated the $450,000 needed per school (which goes to training and support) to participate in the New Tech Network, and worked with the Nanakuli and Waianae campuses to write strategic plans for how to implement New Tech — and how to gauge whether it is working.

Kamehameha Schools, the DOE, neighboring public elementary schools and other community groups donated about $350,000 to buy new laptops.

Shawn Kanaiaupuni, Kamehameha Schools public education support division director, said New Tech is about preparing students to learn and work in the 21st century. "It’s a chance to empower the students by taking part in their own learning process," she said.

Teachers who form the core of the New Tech academies at Nanakuli and Waianae high schools went through training earlier this year to learn the model and also visited schools on the mainland where New Tech has worked, including one in a disadvantaged Los Angeles neighborhood.

New Tech is being showcased as an important part of a radical restructuring of struggling Hawaii schools, especially those on the Leeward Coast. Nanakuli and Waianae are part of what the DOE is calling Zones for School Innovation, where administrators will get more authority to incorporate new methods to address low test scores, high dropout rates and poor attendance.


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