After two project-based learning experiences in which he and fellow Tech Valley High classmates studied the Hudson River, Dylan Weremeichik learned the river was not as polluted as he originally thought.
“But I still wouldn’t eat a fish from it,” the freshman quipped during a presentation before an audience of business leaders during the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast Thursday.
Weremeichik, a student from Cairo-Durham Central School District, was one of 10 Tech Valley High students who volunteered to give chamber members a look at what the school has been up to during the 2007-08 school year, the school’s first.
Tech Valley High School, a joint venture of Questar III, the Capital Region BOCES and the New Technology Foundation, is a prototype project-based learning public school that seeks to wed high school curriculum to high–tech skills needed by the business community. The school, for now, is housed within the Pitney Bowes MapInfo building located within the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Technology Park in North Greenbush and buses students in from participating school districts.
Tech Valley High School Principal Dan Liebert said students have done so many presentations for projects during the school’s first year that he could have easily chosen any of the 40 at the school to speak to the chamber, and each would have done as well as the volunteers, who seemed to impress the business leaders. Liebert said many projects, such as working with the Beacon Institute to build special sensors to be placed in the Hudson River, have taught the New York state high school curriculum by applying it to real-world business and scientific problems.
“I haven’t had to answer that old question ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ [this year]. Not once,” Liebert said.
Of the school’s first class, 40 freshman were chosen from a lottery of 138 qualified applicants from 48 school districts within BOCES and Questar, which include seven counties, Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Schoharie, as well as southern Saratoga and parts of Greene.
Liebert said two of the original 40 students have chosen not to return for a sophomore year and another student may be moving to a district not participating in the venture. He said those students will be replaced by students on a waiting list who attempted to get in the first year.
A new class of 40 freshman was announced in May, after another lottery process in February. School officials said Tech Valley students are chosen randomly from eighth-graders on track for promotion to the ninth grade and not just from academically elite applicants, because the school wants a mix of varying ability levels.
Liebert said the school is in the process of hiring three additional teachers to accommodate the new class. Tech Valley High’s plan is to expand to four grade levels of 40 students each and to move into a permanent building after next year. Students are helping to plan the new building as one of their projects.
During a question-and-answer period, one member asked if the students were learning how to be good citizens as well as good employees.
Lisabethann Kelly, from the Ichabod Crane Central School District, said she and her classmates helped to write potential variations of a Tech Valley High student government constitution during a project called “Power and Citizenship.” She said the student government is known as the Student Union.
“Once that was done, the Student Union is now going through and taking pieces of each constitution to make a final constitution, so that in the future the Student Union can help govern the school and help make decisions,” she said. “I think citizens really do have to be leaders, too.”