Students work in the robotics lab that is part of the new Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) Center at Essex County Newark Tech. The 3,300 square foot addition is a technology enriched classroom designed to be flexible with different teaching models. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
By Eunice Lee/The Star-Ledger
In this classroom, senior Alana Diomande says there are no bells, no teachers and no rules.
But students still take tests and turn in homework.
Diomande is one of 40 seniors at Essex County Newark Tech who have traded the traditional chalkboard and lecture style of learning for a technology-driven facility unveiled Thursday in the latest expansion of the county’s vocational high school.
Officials described the roughly $4 million project, called the Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) Center, as the classroom of the future with movable walls, shifting seating and students working at Apple laptops and large electronic boards.
The 3,300-square-foot space on West Market Street features glass-enclosed rooms for classroom space, a robotics laboratory and guidance counseling offices. The idea was the brainchild of former Essex County Vocational Schools superintendent Michael Panella, who has since been replaced by acting superintendent Joseph Zarra.
Essex County executive Joseph DiVincenzo lauded Gov. Chris Christie, who attended Thursday’s ribbon-cutting event, as a key partner in the project. The roughly $4 million project funded by the school district’s capital budget is 90 percent reimbursed by the state, DiVincenzo said.
Seniors such as David Emenuga are primarily self-motivated and use an online curriculum called Moodle. Students can sit at tables to work in groups with their peers, sprawl out alone on couches formed like building blocks or move around on wheeled desks — as long as they complete their seven subjects.
Meanwhile, five teachers called facilitators float between groups and hold scheduled study groups listed in a spreadsheet on a whiteboard.
“If we need help, we can ask,” Emenuga, 17, of East Orange, said.
Forty seniors are participating in the pilot year of the grades 9-12 program but principal Oge Denis said the long-term goal of the TEAL Center is to include all 740 students in the four grades at Newark Tech.
For the program’s first year, students applied and were chosen based on a rigorous month-long application process including interviews, test scores and observations.
Students in the program start their day at 8:15 a.m. and work on their self-paced curriculum until 12:30 p.m.
At 1 p.m. after lunch, students break out into one of eight vocational tracts — ranging from welding and business to music and manufacturing — and other students from Newark Tech use the TEAL Center.
“When we get to college, we’ll already be self-prepared,” Diomande said.
Students will earn between 12 and 15 college credits by participating in the program, Denis said.
“This is where education is leading, where students are able to take control of their learning,” he said.
Next year, the entire senior class will participate, he said.
“These kids want to go far,” Denis said.