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High Tech High Takes Shape in Van Nuys

June 13, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Construction of a futuristic charter high school, where every student will have a laptop computer, a wireless printer and a connection to the Internet, is underway on the campus of Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.

High Tech High-Los Angeles is a joint effort of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a private foundation headed by former L.A. Unified board member Roberta Weintraub. Fifty-five freshmen began classes at High Tech High in September in bungalows on the Birmingham campus.

"It's pretty exciting, I tell you," said Weintraub, who began work on the project three years ago. "I'm sorry I didn't have a place like this to go to."

Completion of the $15-million facility is expected next May. Funding came from the school district, state and federal agencies and donations from private foundations and corporations, Weintraub said.

High Tech High emphasizes math, science and engineering. In each class, students use laptop computers.

"We really wanted all kids of all backgrounds ... to have access to the most qualified curriculum that they could find," said Marsha Rybin, assistant principal at Birmingham High and director of High Tech High.

Rybin said students learn quicker when they put the information to use. "You learn what you learn because you need it for your project," she said.

In the new facility, solar panels donated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will provide some energy. Skylights that open and close will provide natural lighting when possible and lights will be controlled by sensors.

"Not only will this school be up-to-date, it will also be environmentally sound," Weintraub said.

Weintraub said she was inspired to help create the high-tech school after noticing that many students lacked the knowledge to function in the technological real world.

"I thought of all the people I know who work in offices," she said. "I don't think I knew one person who could work without computers. These are tools that are out there and that are not being currently used [by students]. We need to take advantage of what's out there."

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