During break I walk to the rest-room, and notice many students in the central atrium texting, talking on their cellphones, or listening to ipods. I ask my “ambassadors” here, Timmy, Jimmy, and “Michelle” who has joined us, about the policy, and they tell me that here the rule is you can use your phone if you are doing so in a non-disruptive way, responsibly. Not in the middle of class, and if you abuse your use you will be “confronted” by a teacher, but they treat you like adults– you can use the technology responsibly. We compare this to working as an adult in a professional environment. This goes in synch, they tell me, with other school policies, like not having bells, not having hall passes, etc. When I ask if anyone uses smartphones in class for academic purposes, they tell me that there is no need– they all have laptops available to them anytime they need.
Students are doing a lab here, with good self-direction and collaboration. Wearing lab coats and goggles, they are swabbing inside cheeks, smearing and staining it, then studying the result under the microscope. I am spending the morning in a bio–medical lab program; the kids will be in this class for three hours, 730 to 1030, before returning to their regular high schools for afternoon classes. There are maybe 60 students in this large, modernly furnished, attractive space; the room feels full but not crowded. The teacher, 1 of 3 in the room, dressed in medical scrubs, which is great– sets a tone, models a working environment. Looking around the room, maybe a third of the students are wearing scrubs too.
She tells me “I like coming CART because they really respect you and treat you like adults. At my other, regular high school– they look at us like we are just teenagers, and when people usually think teenagers, they think irresponsible, we are all the same person, we are all just adolescents. But here it is a professional environment, and you get the feeling right when you walk in. Dressing in scrubs for our biomedical lab, we feel like we are really people at work. The technology here at CART, we get to use it like every day; our “home schools”– the regular schools attended the other half of the day, either don’t have the technology or we don’t get to use it because they’re afraid we’ll break it. “
Last year Jackie was in a different “lab,” Multimedia– graphic and web-design. In that program, the students made websites and logos. They made radio commercials and a movie; they actually worked with businesses. For example, they made a logo for google, and helped an agricultural company make a logo for them, and the company is now using one student’s design. For that lab, the students didn’t dress in scrubs, of course, but every Friday they had a meeting for which they had to dress professionally.
Jackie’s ambition is to be a neonatal intensive care nurse; she will be the first in her family to go to college.
Each student has their own laptop for the time they are here at school (the laptops stay here, and the a.m. students share with the p.m. students). Right now, as Jackie and I speak, the teacher is having the students use their laptops to locate nursing and medical colleges in California, and identify and record their admissions requirements. As I watch, a baggy pants wearing male student approaches the teacher to ask “Do you have to become an RN first in order to become a cardiac nurse?” They proceed to have a good and informative conversation about that career path.