Following your passion is not something typically emphasized in a high school, but Tech Valley High School is anything but typical.
This month, the faculty, parents and students at Tech Valley are sharing their passions in a classroom setting, and some of the classes offered may come as a surprise.
“We really want to stress that lifelong learning is an end goal for our students and that learning can be fun,” Principal Dan Liebert said. “By asking our community to have a voice and share what they are passionate about, we are teaching our students that learning takes a multitude of forms.”
Established in 2007, Tech Valley High School is housed on the University at Albany’s East Campus and operates with the mission of offering a well-rounded education with a strong emphasis on math, science and technology. The hope is that the Tech Valley education prepares students to compete in the growing high-tech and global economy emerging in the Capital Region’s Tech Valley.
For nearly a month, students attend workshops and lectures about things that may interest them. The school refers to this time as the J-Term. There are no grades or tests, explained Michelle Sweeny, a science teacher.
“It is about students exploring something they want to learn about,” she said. “For 10 months out of the school year, students are learning about what teachers are telling them to learn about. We wanted to give them a chance to learn about what they want to learn about.”
On Monday, Sweeny held a lecture on mosh pit etiquette. “I would say that all of them participated and all of them were open to hearing what I had to say,” she said.
At concerts of metal, punk or other aggressive music, moshers form a group in front of the stage so they can jump up and down and slam into each other.
“The conclusion we came to in the end is that it is dancing,” said Sweeny, herself a mosh pit veteran. “It is just a form of dancing.”
Sweeny taught students about the history of moshing, asked them questions about their experiences with moshing and then tried to instill in them an etiquette if they were ever to participate in a mosh pit.
“We boiled it down to two basic rules,” she said. “Be aware of your surroundings. Look out for other people.”
Sweeny said she believes these lectures are important not only for the students but for the faculty and staff at Tech Valley. She said students getting to know their teachers helps with the school culture and the sense of community, and sharing your passions is educational and fun.
The students seem to be enjoying the lectures and presentations, too.
“I really like them. I thought it was going to be boring, but we are learning a lot of good information and it’s very involved,” junior Alyssa Decker said.
Other lecture subjects included conspiracy theories, drumming, wilderness survival and toffee-making, among others.
Last Wednesday, students learned how to prepare healthy snacks and meals from teachers Dustin Verga and Hillary Skeans. In another classroom, students constructed pinhole cameras under the guidance of history teacher Stacia Snow.
“It has been very hands-on, which I like,” sophomore Nafisa Rahman said. “You learn a lot.”