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Wayne New Tech designed to engage students

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 12:01 am

Wayne New Tech High School, located within the walls of Wayne High School, doesn't look like a typical high school, with its large, 50-student classrooms formed within a gymnasium.

That's because with some movable walls and clustered desks, Wayne New Tech actually isn't a typical high school.

It's part of a network of high schools, called New Tech Network, that focus on teaching STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – subjects using project-based or hands on learning.

This teaching style naturally requires classrooms that look different than traditional ones where desks are lined up in rows with the teacher at the front of the classroom.

Often, two teachers collaborate and combine classes in subjects like geometry and engineering and biology and literature.

By incorporating some hallway space, the school is able to hold assemblies for all 400 students in the area. The completed Wayne New Tech now has 14 classrooms with a total of 400 students, freshmen through seniors.

This integration helps students learn more, said Principal Liz Bryan.

“It increases their engagement,” she said. “They see the relevancy in what they're doing. It's not just opening a book and reading a chapter anymore.”

The school was built in phases. Fort Wayne Community Schools took out three small bonds of under $2 million each to avoid the requirement of taxpayer approval. The price tag included the construction, furniture and technology.

The first two phases of construction at Wayne New Tech turned two gymnasiums into six large classrooms. Dividing the classrooms are glass doors, creating a fishbowl effect so teachers and students can see everything all the time.

“In a project-based environment, kids are working in groups,” Bryan said. “Everything is movable and mobile.”

These classrooms rely heavily on wireless technology – each student has his or her own laptop – and are outfitted with movable furniture to turn a classroom used for a few hours for geometry and engineering class into a health class.

Projectors and electronic white boards are in place in many classrooms as well.

But for the third phase, Bryan said the school required smaller space for remediation and certain classes which only sophomores or juniors needed to take.

“Some kids need remediation while other kids need to be pushed, so you can create those small learning environments,” she said.

SchenkelShultz worked with FWCS on the third phase of the project, creating flexible classroom space and incorporating a hallway as additional learning space.

These six suites can accommodate up to 65 students or can be broken down for groups of 30, 20 or 15 students.

“The idea was complete flexibility,” said architect Cory Miller. “Those walls get opened and closed all day long.”

Miller said because of codes, the company was able to use some hallway space to create student gathering space and two “booths” for learning, which Bryan said students enjoy.

“It's a good place where you can get a lot of work done,” said junior Nicholas Huyck, who was recently using a booth during class time to get some work done. “Sometimes it gets hectic in (the classrooms).”

Bryan said the old model of students seated in rows and teachers holding all the knowledge is dying.

“I wouldn't mind going to high school all over again if I could go through (the Wayne New Tech) program,” said architect Doug Routh.