Shaeer began actively recruiting girls into his program, and in a four-year span, their proportion of the four-year program’s enrollment shot up from 5 to 50 percent.
Since its inception, the DPEA has become a renowned feature of the Goleta school.
“Our program is unique in many ways, in that the students are really collaborating together,” Shaeer told Noozhawk. “It doesn’t feel like a traditional class — especially in this day and age.”
The DPEA’s innovative approach to education landed its director, also a DPHS physics teacher, and one of its star students, Madison Pickett, speaker slots in panel and break-out-group discussions at this past week’s second-annual White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools in Washington, D.C.
Joining the two was Emily Shaeer, the academy’s admissions, outreach and communications coordinator.
Pickett, now a freshman studying mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a softball player and a top student in the DPEA, which incorporates math, physics, technology and design into its project-based curriculum.
“The idea of the summit was to bring people throughout the country who are working on really advancing secondary education in particular together to share ideas,” Shaeer said.
The summit has its origins in President Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, in which he called on high schools to better prepare their students to work in an increasingly innovative and globalized world.
The resources that educators can bring back to their communities from the summit can lay the ground work for making their curricula more responsive to students’ real learning needs, Shaeer told Noozhawk.
In today’s education system, he said, “it really feels like a competition between students. If the teacher isn’t believing that all students can master the material, that everybody can get A’s, and they’re imposing the traditional curve on them — there really is this competitive spirit between these students.
“And in our program, we really have the students working together,” he said. “And so what we’re trying to cultivate — and what, specifically, I think Emily is really focused on, especially this year — is how do we really help the kids move from that kind of mindset to the mindset that we have in our program, which is this collaborative nature. And then how do we capitalize off that?”
NOVA’s two-hour documentary, which premiered this past week, examined how science can be used to improve students’ learning, how technology can help individualize learning for optimum educational achievement, and how the U.S.’s sprawling educational system can be made more equitable.
Educational and socio-economic inequality is a key driver of the achievement gap among a variety of student demographics, according to the documentary, which was screened Wednesday night at Dos Pueblos’ Elings Performing Arts Center.
Schools across the country, from pre-kindergarten through high school, were profiled for their innovative approaches to education.
“Schools of the Future” highlights DPEA’s “Physics Arcade,” its students’ senior project that demonstrated through games a number of concepts in physics and engineering. The project won several honors at their Maker Faire competition.
“Engineering is not a well-governed subject in the high schools,” Shaeer told Noozhawk. “There’s no standardized testing that’s coming down on us and saying, ‘Have you met these standards?’
“So because of the types of courses we’ve put together, we’re kind of in this realm where we get to do some really exciting work, but that is being judged on its merits and not by these external metrics that may not be the best measuring tool.”
The DPEA can become a role model of sorts for other schools, he said, that can become inspired by its success, and then work toward implementing similarly innovative programs and educational structures themselves.
That bottom-up approach is the most effective way to transform the country’s disparate educational systems for the better, he said, as “there’s no one-size-fits-all approach” that won’t tend to compress from the top and bottom American schools’ performance into a mediocre average.
Perhaps the most fundamental goal of educators both at the White House summit and in “School of the Future” is figuring out how best to optimize each individual’s learning and achievement.
“It’s this whole idea of mirrors, rather than windows,” Shaeer said in the documentary. “You want the audience to look at the person they see and see themselves, as opposed to looking through a window and seeing an opportunity that someone else has taken advantage of.
“We are basically saying that we are going to present this so that anybody can see themselves do that.”