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New Adventures in Education

newadventuresineducation1One-of-a-kind green school in Seaside opens its doors to students from Santa Cruz County

“This is, like, my ninth school,” says 16-year-old Izzy Dure-Biondi, standing between the two small buildings that comprise her latest educational venture, The New High School Project (TNHSP) in Seaside. “I’m making jokes with my friends that I will hit all the high schools before I graduate.”

The young Santa Cruz resident has attended schools all over the area in hopes of finding one that sticks; trying independent schools, public schools (“where I had fun, but I had some gaps in my education,” she says) and private schools, where she liked the small class sizes but not the stern academic pressure “to be perfect.”

Despite these past disappointments, she is optimistic that this new, alternative high school might be a fit. “All the kids here have a special set of learning disabilities that are rather similar, and I think we also have the similar thing that we’ve been going from school to school trying to find the right place and learning situation for us,” she says. “I think this will provide that for us.”

Dure-Biondi is one of 14 students who make up the first class of TNHSP, four of whom are also from Santa Cruz. The rest hail from as far as Watsonville, Pacific Grove, King City and Morgan Hill. Four of the students are transitioning from Chartwell, the K-8 private school of which TNHSP is an extension and shares a campus. All of the students have language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia.

Steve Henderson, dean of students and co-founder of TNHSP, says that the school’s mission is based off research that shows that students aren’t really learning disabled – they just learn differently. “Learning disabled isn’t really ‘disabled,’” he says. “Someone appears disabled when you place them in a standardized model of education, [but] they just process information differently.” While research on dyslexia, for example, has been around for over 100 years, Henderson says that it is only in the past 10 that advancements in brain science have allowed educators to truly understand this. Henderson, along with Dean of Curriculum Elizabeth Miles and Chartwell’s Executive Director Douglass Atkins, crafted the New High School to cater to these students.

“Many of our students have been frustrated by their experience in the traditional setting and don’t see themselves as learners anymore,” says Miles. “We’re hoping that …they will re-engage in learning.”

In order to reach kids who aren’t looked after in traditional education environments, they made sure TNHSP is anything but—deviating from the conventional high school experience to meet the individual needs of each of its students. Students are grouped by skill level rather than by age or grade, and are all a part of one class with at least two teachers present at all times. Even in future years, school leaders don’t expect enrollment to exceed 60 students. “Being small is important to us,” says Henderson.

Instead of semesters, the curriculum is designed as six-week project periods that include ample field experience and culminate in the production of individual final projects. Their first six-week mini-semester is themed “DNA” and will include a field trip to Stanford University’s research laboratories.

From an envied 9 a.m. start time (“We know teenagers aren’t physiologically awake in the morning,” explains Miles), to daily physical activity lessons centered around such arts as fencing and tai-chi, it’s fair to say that nothing about the school is typical. Students are even issued a personal laptop to use for the school year as part of what Miles and Henderson call the “1-to-1 laptop program.”

Of course, as the saying goes, “there is no such thing as free lunch,” and one year’s tuition runs a family $29,950 – several times more than a year at a public university.

“It’s viewed by students and their families not as a luxury but as a necessity,” says Henderson of the steep cost. “They make really tremendous sacrifices to get into the kind of program that they need.”

In addition to paying the big bucks for high-quality education, families are paying to send their child to a cutting-edge “green” campus. Chartwell, which underwent a remodel in 2006, was the first campus in the country to receive a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and is in the 99th percentile of energy efficiency compared to similar operations, according to Atkins. The two 1,000-square foot portable buildings that make up TNHSP are LEED certifiable as well compliant to the Collaborate for High School Portables (CHPS) standards. San Francisco-based Clever Homes managed the project.

Toby Long, principal architect for Clever Homes, says they surpassed CHPS guidelines, which are aimed at improving the quality of portable classrooms, to make the buildings LEED certifiable. “In terms of quality of materials, the environmental stewardship, the mechanical technologies that were used, the energy efficiency, the amount of windows – the buildings exceed the standards quite a bit,” he says. Inspired by their work with TNHSP, Clever Homes is spearheading a new line of sustainable portable classrooms – hoping to replace the dark, musty portable trailers older generations know so well with airy, eco-friendly ones.


The school has earned national attention for being a leader in green building, but Atkins says their motivation to go green was for the students, not the credit.

“It wasn’t in and of itself a primary focus of the school, but it turns out that by building something with attention to the sustainability features, with integrated design, you are building to give maximum advantage to the occupants. By building in things like day lighting, air quality control measures, etc., you boost the educational outcomes of students,” he says. As TNHSP students sit down for their first class in the building behind him, Atkins cannot be sure of how the school will work for them. However, in his inauguration speech earlier that morning, he praised the institution’s open-ended nature.

“It is significant that we keep the word ‘project’ in the school’s name,” he said. “It connotes movement through time of ideas and actions, and dependence on what the participants find in their evolving investigations – both academic and practical.”

In her speech, Miles accredited the 14 students, who were handpicked from an applicant pool of around 30, with shaping the school’s future. “This group was chosen for their talents and incredible potential, but also for their courage—they have the courage of pioneers,” she said.

Despite these past disappointments, she is optimistic that this new, alternative high school might be a fit. “All the kids here have a special set of learning disabilities that are rather similar, and I think we also have the similar thing that we’ve been going from school to school trying to find the right place and learning situation for us,” she says. “I think this will provide that for us.”

Dure-Biondi is one of 14 students who make up the first class of TNHSP, four of whom are also from Santa Cruz. The rest hail from as far as Watsonville, Pacific Grove, King City and Morgan Hill. Four of the students are transitioning from Chartwell, the K-8 private school of which TNHSP is an extension and shares a campus. All of the students have language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia.

Steve Henderson, dean of students and co-founder of TNHSP, says that the school’s mission is based off research that shows that students aren’t really learning disabled – they just learn differently. “Learning disabled isn’t really ‘disabled,’” he says. “Someone appears disabled when you place them in a standardized model of education, [but] they just process information differently.” While research on dyslexia, for example, has been around for over 100 years, Henderson says that it is only in the past 10 that advancements in brain science have allowed educators to truly understand this. Henderson, along with Dean of Curriculum Elizabeth Miles and Chartwell’s Executive Director Douglass Atkins, crafted the New High School to cater to these students.

newadventuresinecucation2“Many of our students have been frustrated by their experience in the traditional setting and don’t see themselves as learners anymore,” says Miles. “We’re hoping that …they will re-engage in learning.”

In order to reach kids who aren’t looked after in traditional education environments, they made sure TNHSP is anything but—deviating from the conventional high school experience to meet the individual needs of each of its students. Students are grouped by skill level rather than by age or grade, and are all a part of one class with at least two teachers present at all times. Even in future years, school leaders don’t expect enrollment to exceed 60 students. “Being small is important to us,” says Henderson.

Instead of semesters, the curriculum is designed as six-week project periods that include ample field experience and culminate in the production of individual final projects. Their first six-week mini-semester is themed “DNA” and will include a field trip to Stanford University’s research laboratories.

From an envied 9 a.m. start time (“We know teenagers aren’t physiologically awake in the morning,” explains Miles), to daily physical activity lessons centered around such arts as fencing and tai-chi, it’s fair to say that nothing about the school is typical. Students are even issued a personal laptop to use for the school year as part of what Miles and Henderson call the “1-to-1 laptop program.”

Of course, as the saying goes, “there is no such thing as free lunch,” and one year’s tuition runs a family $29,950 – several times more than a year at a public university.

“It’s viewed by students and their families not as a luxury but as a necessity,” says Henderson of the steep cost. “They make really tremendous sacrifices to get into the kind of program that they need.”

In addition to paying the big bucks for high-quality education, families are paying to send their child to a cutting-edge “green” campus. Chartwell, which underwent a remodel in 2006, was the first campus in the country to receive a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and is in the 99th percentile of energy efficiency compared to similar operations, according to Atkins. The two 1,000-square foot portable buildings that make up TNHSP are LEED certifiable as well compliant to the Collaborate for High School Portables (CHPS) standards. San Francisco-based Clever Homes managed the project.

Toby Long, principal architect for Clever Homes, says they surpassed CHPS guidelines, which are aimed at improving the quality of portable classrooms, to make the buildings LEED certifiable. “In terms of quality of materials, the environmental stewardship, the mechanical technologies that were used, the energy efficiency, the amount of windows – the buildings exceed the standards quite a bit,” he says. Inspired by their work with TNHSP, Clever Homes is spearheading a new line of sustainable portable classrooms – hoping to replace the dark, musty portable trailers older generations know so well with airy, eco-friendly ones.


The school has earned national attention for being a leader in green building, but Atkins says their motivation to go green was for the students, not the credit.

“It wasn’t in and of itself a primary focus of the school, but it turns out that by building something with attention to the sustainability features, with integrated design, you are building to give maximum advantage to the occupants. By building in things like day lighting, air quality control measures, etc., you boost the educational outcomes of students,” he says. As TNHSP students sit down for their first class in the building behind him, Atkins cannot be sure of how the school will work for them. However, in his inauguration speech earlier that morning, he praised the institution’s open-ended nature.

“It is significant that we keep the word ‘project’ in the school’s name,” he said. “It connotes movement through time of ideas and actions, and dependence on what the participants find in their evolving investigations – both academic and practical.”

In her speech, Miles accredited the 14 students, who were handpicked from an applicant pool of around 30, with shaping the school’s future. “This group was chosen for their talents and incredible potential, but also for their courage—they have the courage of pioneers,” she said.

Despite these past disappointments, she is optimistic that this new, alternative high school might be a fit. “All the kids here have a special set of learning disabilities that are rather similar, and I think we also have the similar thing that we’ve been going from school to school trying to find the right place and learning situation for us,” she says. “I think this will provide that for us.”

Dure-Biondi is one of 14 students who make up the first class of TNHSP, four of whom are also from Santa Cruz. The rest hail from as far as Watsonville, Pacific Grove, King City and Morgan Hill. Four of the students are transitioning from Chartwell, the K-8 private school of which TNHSP is an extension and shares a campus. All of the students have language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia.

Steve Henderson, dean of students and co-founder of TNHSP, says that the school’s mission is based off research that shows that students aren’t really learning disabled – they just learn differently. “Learning disabled isn’t really ‘disabled,’” he says. “Someone appears disabled when you place them in a standardized model of education, [but] they just process information differently.” While research on dyslexia, for example, has been around for over 100 years, Henderson says that it is only in the past 10 that advancements in brain science have allowed educators to truly understand this. Henderson, along with Dean of Curriculum Elizabeth Miles and Chartwell’s Executive Director Douglass Atkins, crafted the New High School to cater to these students.

news_school2.jpgnews_school2.jpg“Many of our students have been frustrated by their experience in the traditional setting and don’t see themselves as learners anymore,” says Miles. “We’re hoping that …they will re-engage in learning.”

In order to reach kids who aren’t looked after in traditional education environments, they made sure TNHSP is anything but—deviating from the conventional high school experience to meet the individual needs of each of its students. Students are grouped by skill level rather than by age or grade, and are all a part of one class with at least two teachers present at all times. Even in future years, school leaders don’t expect enrollment to exceed 60 students. “Being small is important to us,” says Henderson.

Instead of semesters, the curriculum is designed as six-week project periods that include ample field experience and culminate in the production of individual final projects. Their first six-week mini-semester is themed “DNA” and will include a field trip to Stanford University’s research laboratories.

From an envied 9 a.m. start time (“We know teenagers aren’t physiologically awake in the morning,” explains Miles), to daily physical activity lessons centered around such arts as fencing and tai-chi, it’s fair to say that nothing about the school is typical. Students are even issued a personal laptop to use for the school year as part of what Miles and Henderson call the “1-to-1 laptop program.”

Of course, as the saying goes, “there is no such thing as free lunch,” and one year’s tuition runs a family $29,950 – several times more than a year at a public university.

“It’s viewed by students and their families not as a luxury but as a necessity,” says Henderson of the steep cost. “They make really tremendous sacrifices to get into the kind of program that they need.”

In addition to paying the big bucks for high-quality education, families are paying to send their child to a cutting-edge “green” campus. Chartwell, which underwent a remodel in 2006, was the first campus in the country to receive a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and is in the 99th percentile of energy efficiency compared to similar operations, according to Atkins. The two 1,000-square foot portable buildings that make up TNHSP are LEED certifiable as well compliant to the Collaborate for High School Portables (CHPS) standards. San Francisco-based Clever Homes managed the project.

Toby Long, principal architect for Clever Homes, says they surpassed CHPS guidelines, which are aimed at improving the quality of portable classrooms, to make the buildings LEED certifiable. “In terms of quality of materials, the environmental stewardship, the mechanical technologies that were used, the energy efficiency, the amount of windows – the buildings exceed the standards quite a bit,” he says. Inspired by their work with TNHSP, Clever Homes is spearheading a new line of sustainable portable classrooms – hoping to replace the dark, musty portable trailers older generations know so well with airy, eco-friendly ones.


The school has earned national attention for being a leader in green building, but Atkins says their motivation to go green was for the students, not the credit.

“It wasn’t in and of itself a primary focus of the school, but it turns out that by building something with attention to the sustainability features, with integrated design, you are building to give maximum advantage to the occupants. By building in things like day lighting, air quality control measures, etc., you boost the educational outcomes of students,” he says. As TNHSP students sit down for their first class in the building behind him, Atkins cannot be sure of how the school will work for them. However, in his inauguration speech earlier that morning, he praised the institution’s open-ended nature.

“It is significant that we keep the word ‘project’ in the school’s name,” he said. “It connotes movement through time of ideas and actions, and dependence on what the participants find in their evolving investigations – both academic and practical.”

In her speech, Miles accredited the 14 students, who were handpicked from an applicant pool of around 30, with shaping the school’s future. “This group was chosen for their talents and incredible potential, but also for their courage—they have the courage of pioneers,” she said.

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