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Innovative Facing History New Tech seeks students (video)

July 23, 2014

The District’s Facing History New Tech High School, believed to be the only school of its kind in the country, is still recruiting students for the 2014-15 school year.

FHNT combines the rigor of a project-based New Tech school with the introspection of the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum. The high school, for ninth- through 11th-graders until it adds a senior class next year, is housed on the third floor of Charles Mooney K-8 School, 3213 Montclair Ave., in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Because last year was the first year the high school had sophomores (it started with a freshman class in 2012-13 and is adding a grade each year as the students move up), the state has not yet released any academic numbers demonstrating its success.

But FHNT Principal Marc Engoglia said last year’s sophomore class is likely to show solid numbers in math, writing, reading and social studies when state report cards are released.

Engoglia said the combination of the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum with the New Tech approach is critical to the high school's success.

“New Tech is the way we teach, while Facing History is what we teach,” explained Engoglia, who said the school has room for up to 100 freshman students this year.

“The New Tech piece, which is used by some 160 schools across the country, means that we have kids in groups for learning, with laptops and other tools, and they work on projects,” he said. “But we’re the only ones putting the Facing History piece into that, so that the students here confront what that means to them, to their community and to the world.”

In the 2013-14 school year, that meant, among other things:
  • A November visit from David J. Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans and one of President Obama's top education officials (see video, right). Johns, who was appointed to the post in March, said he came to the school to see how the model is functioning and told Engoglia that he would like to come back to observe classroom activities. He chatted with about 10 students, hitting serious topics such as military service and educational opportunities and the No Child Left Behind Act. He also shared a few laughs with the students, who wanted to know whether he was close enough to the president or first lady to text with them. 
  • A March installment of the “The Truth Booth,”  (see video at top)  a project initiated by three artists affiliated with the San Francisco-based Cause Collective. Essentially, it is an inflatable video studio that is the size of a small cottage but made in the shape of a speech balloon (the kind you see in comic strips). It is part public art display, part sociology experiment, part philosophy/morality assessment and part mental challenge. FHNT teachers had the students explore a historical event loaded with questions about point of view and perspective – the 1979 shooting deaths of five anti-Ku Klux Klan protestors in Greensboro, S.C. – to explore how media, the public and participants have varying views of “the truth” in relation to that event. The Truth Booth came to Cleveland as the result of collaboration between the Cleveland Museum of Art and the local office of Facing History and Ourselves, said the office's director, Mark Swaim-Fox.
  • Hosting dozens of peers from six Northeast Ohio high schools in May for a Human Rights Summit (video, at right) that delved into issues as diverse as LGBT rights in America and forced marriages of children in Malawi. The summit, the brainchild of FHNT teacher Doug Ramage, was coupled with an afternoon visit and talk given by Carlotta Walls LaNier. In 1957, at age 14, she was the youngest member of “The Little Rock Nine,” the black students who first integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. 
Classes at Facing History New Tech begin Wednesday Aug. 13, but Engoglia said current students will be visiting FHNT on Aug. 8 and 11. The plan is for each current student to bring along a student who is not yet enrolled in a high school.

“We’ve never had anyone shadow here who hasn’t decided to attend this school,” Engoglia said. “That’s a pretty strong testament to what we do here.

“I know it sounds cliché, but we’re not teaching subjects, we’re teaching life,” he said. “We’re trying to teach kids the skills they need to be successful in whatever they do. The subjects we teach inform that, but they come secondary.”

Engoglia said that “any student can thrive in the Facing History New Tech” curriculum but that the school has done a particularly good job reaching students who he said might have not fit in elsewhere, who “could have been pushed to the side by their peers in a different environment.” He cited the courage of a transgender student and the support from his peers last year as a progressive example of that.

“We’re almost like a family here,” he said. “When you share your ideas and opinions, we’re going to rigorously discuss them, but you won’t be judged for having that opinion.”