Students are learning how to learn thanks to the efforts of Ernest Righetti High School teacher Dr. David Preston.
With a fusion of the high school curriculum, the college experience and Internet, Dr. Preston plans this year to take another 200 Santa Maria Joint Union High School District students to the next level where goals are explored and reached inside his Open Source Learning Program. The program has received national attention and helped SMJUHSD students earn about $1 million in scholarships since 2006.
The special curriculum accomplishes all traditional requirements, including Advanced Placement American Literature and other composition requirements. It also challenges and empowers students to take action with the use of technology.
"Graduates have to figure out what they need to survive and succeed," said Dr. Preston, who taught at UCLA for 10 years. "Our society rewards people who take action — you can't win if you don't play. The Internet is not a toy or a TV. It is the essential tool for success in the Information Age."
The students' experience begins with a heart-to-heart conversation about learning, public education and their goals for the future. During class, students decide whether to follow a traditional instructional model or take charge of co-creating and curating their own learning experience.
Using the Internet and blogs, Dr. Preston connects the students with accomplished experts in a variety of fields, including the authors of cutting-edge literature and composition, so students can interact directly and ask questions. These engagements lead to plain talk involving goals and interests.
The students are guided through the Internet in search of information relevant to what they want to accomplish and develop a personal skill set. One student is working on a website for student mothers to more effectively use technology for themselves and understand the developmental implications for their children. Many other students are exploring a slew of value-adding ventures that may become business possibilities.
Throughout the process, the students are also taught Dr. Preston's keys to getting the learning mind started and focused. The curriculum includes concentration, nutrition and exercise, decision-making, technical mastery, and participation in culture and society.
ERHS graduate and former representative to the SMJUHSD Board of Education Ryland Towne has taken the learning to heart and will attend UCLA this year.
"In the spirit of Dr. Preston's belief to bend the traditional ways of the past, I hope to pursue a career in which I challenge yet another exhausted adage, 'All politicians are the same,''' Towne said. "Dr. Preston pushed us to write and constructively evaluate not only what we knew, but what our peers knew and even what our entire networking web knew.''
SMJUHSD Superintendent Dr. Mark Richardson believes the program gives students an edge in life.
"David has really turned the classroom inside out,'' Dr. Richardson said. "His use of technology goes beyond digital curriculum. He empowers his students to take charge of their own learning through the use of technology and they do!"
SMJUHSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction John Davis could not be happier with Dr. Preston's desire to develop "21st-century skills.”
"Students need to be able to do more than master a new set of standards. They must be able to adapt and compete in a digital/information economy,'' Davis said. "The value of Dr. Preston's Open Source model goes well beyond that of mastering standards. His students are establishing themselves as true ‘digital citizens,’ well-prepared to move to the next level of college or career.''
— Kenny Klein represents the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.