May 2005 
Volume 22, Number 1
Patrick R. Lake, Editor

Occasional Paper




By: Dr. Edwin R. Massey,
President, Indian River Community College

“The CALC Rocks. It rolls like thunder through the wireless world and the entire technology industry. So get in the mix –
and turn up your education volume at the one school that rocks the world.”

Erin Cippoletta, Senior, Advanced Learning Center (CALC) Stuart, Florida

Attending the Clark Advanced Learning Center (CALC) is a form of time travel, that engages students in a futuristic, highly innovative, technology-rich environment and  prepares them for the challenges of the mid-21st century.  This is a “High School for the Digital Age,” and the two-story Technology Tower, a glass tube of flashing components at the Center’s core, symbolizes its information age mission.   

Located in Stuart, Florida, the CALC is a joint project of Indian River Community College (IRCC) and the Martin County School District. The CALC opened its doors for the 2004/2005 school year with 200 high school juniors and seniors on the IRCC Chastain Campus. Good news arrived in November when the CALC earned a three-year high school accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. CALC students are offered significant high school/college dual enrollment opportunities and these college-level courses are covered by IRCC’s SACS accreditation.   

The Center brings to life the joint vision of the College and the school district,  developed through years of cooperative planning, and it’s a gratifying experience for any educator to see the students and teachers so energized and engaged in the learning process. 

Throughout the free-flowing Center, students cluster together enthusiastically solving real-world career-related problems on the flipped open laptop computers  assigned to them. The building itself is designed to inspire new approaches that promote collaboration and integrate technology into all aspects of teaching and learning.  Today’s students are Internet natives, accustomed to multi-tasking with electronic resources at their fingertips. The school’s curriculum responds to their high-tech expectations, accommodating the ways these students learn best.

In the central Knowledge Room, digital media mavens meet under two giant plasma screens to critique their 3D animations and gather Web-based research on their laptops. Eco-technology majors hunker down in a circle of armchairs to create a spread sheet of data analyzing Everglades restoration.  In the virtual studio, a seventeen-year-old produces video to be exported into her e-commerce web site. Technology is ubiquitous, even at lunch. These students do not have to be led to learning. They eagerly drink in the myriad of opportunities available at this national model high school.

Why?  The Clark Advanced Learning Center applies proven best practices in education that respond to the learning styles of students born in the 1980’s and later.   

With the goal of preparing a highly-skilled workforce equipped with both strong academic and technical skills, the Center was developed with extensive input from the business community. The President of the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce and the CEO of the Martin County Economic Council serve, respectively, as Chair and Vice Chair of the Center’s nine-member Management Board, which includes IRCC’s President,  the Superintendent of the Martin County School District, and five additional members representing the business community, the college and school district.

With the personal attention and academic opportunities afforded by a small school on a college campus, this unique charter high school provides a strong foundation for success in both higher education and careers. Planning drew upon extensive research gathered over three years, including visits to model educational facilities throughout the nation. The project also incorporates the successful concepts of the national award-winning Tech Prep program implemented by IRCC with the St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee county school districts. Recently, the Clark Advanced Learning Center was awarded a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education/Tech Prep program to serve as a national model demonstration site.   

Several factors emerged as essential for the success of the school, and they have become hallmarks of the CALC. The opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school has proved highly attractive to the teenage students. They engage in project and work-based experiences, and these experiences are shaped by a unique high-tech environment that deepens student learning. The CALC is already exceeding the expectations of students, parents and the business community as it implements these approaches.  

Helping to make it happen are the Center’s enthusiastic young teachers. They interact easily with the students, facilitating the learning process by designing and coordinating instructional projects, and interjecting thought-provoking questions and technology tips. This approach has engaged student Andrew Carden, 17, who says, “You really have lots of intelligent teachers and good counselors here, and you get more personal attention and get to express yourself.” 

The previous career experiences of the teachers in information technology, digital media are other fields are shared with the students on a daily basis.

“I was the owner of a digital media business, and now I share that expertise with my students, helping each one to create an electronic portfolio of their work,” said Damien Tullier, Digital Media teacher.

The teachers all benefit from weekly professional development workshops and common planning times.

Learning spaces throughout the 35,000 square foot center are both physical and virtual, maximizing opportunities to deliver instruction geared to individual learning styles and merging technology into all aspects of the curriculum.  English students, for example, must not only demonstrate good writing skills but the ability to present the work effectively using the appropriate software.

With efficient use of resources always an important consideration, the Center was developed to serve as a setting for high school classes during the day and college courses during the evenings and weekends. Funding was a joint endeavor with a $6.6 million allocation by the Florida Legislature, supplemented by more than $3 million in local funding from the Martin County School District and the commitment of 11.5 acres of land, technology, infrastructure, and administrative support from IRCC.  Charter school status enabled the CALC to qualify for a $250,000 Federal Implementation Grant to help underwrite start-up costs.

Private contributions to the IRCC Foundation have played a key role in helping the school set a standard of excellence. The student laptops were provided through a contribution from Hays and Rosamond Clark, for whom the Center is named, and we are especially thankful to the Clarks for enabling us to open the Center with a laptop for each of the 200 students.  The high-tech tools are central to the concept that learning is an exciting pursuit that can and should take place anytime and anyplace.

Students attend the CALC for their junior and senior years and will graduate with a high school diploma and their freshman year of college - or more- completed. In fact, motivated students will be able to graduate from high school with an Associate degree. The high school academic courses have been aligned with college courses to provide maximum opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school.  

Program evaluation criteria have been established with a goal for all students to graduate college-ready, with most successfully completing a minimum of 24 college credits.  

Applied project-based learning is central to the CALC’s curriculum, enabling   students to understand and value the important connection between academics, career success, and technology in today’s workplace. The projects are fun and high-tech. For the “Ralph Project,” Ralph, an imaginary lizard intended to inspire creativity, must appear somewhere in a Web site design that demonstrates professional graphics, content development, and navigational simplicity. Students in the Emerging Technologies course visit 100 websites, critique and rate them, and write a brief summary. 

“My goal is to help students use technology tools in diverse ways to their fullest  extent. In fact, their ability to effectively conduct online research is part of their grade,”  said Geo Wassung, the Information Technology teacher.   

In American Government, students create virtual museums investigating the workings of Florida government. Among the most popular projects are 3D animations developed for television to promote a business or product. Students in the Civil Engineering course, such as Mike Svoboda, 16, have become enthusiastic model bridge builders.   

“I always wanted to be an engineer, but I wasn’t sure. Then when we started designing and building bridges, I decided I really like it,” said Mike.   

Students enhance high-level critical thinking skills by solving real-world problems as part of their projects, and CALC teachers coordinate assignments with business partners to create meaningful experiences.  One of the first in-field activities was an “insiders” tour of Martin Memorial Hospital by the medical professions students. All students complete a research project on the career of their choice, including interviews with business people, salary ranges, working conditions, suitable attire, and necessary education.    

Further strengthening the connection between academics and the world of work, students participate in job shadowing during their junior year and a 12-week business/industry internship related to their career interest as seniors. Often grappling with job applicants unprepared for job requirements, business partners are eager to provide internship opportunities that expose students to business practices and expectations. In addition, students will maintain frequent communication with a business person engaged in their field of interest through “e-mentoring.”

Curriculum is designed around six majors: information technology, digital media, entrepreneurship/e-commerce, medical professions, eco-technology, and a customized multi-disciplinary option. Students work toward the designated degree but have the flexibility to take specialized courses in other technology areas, and student enthusiasm for the technology is palpable.  

“I want to be a graphic designer, so my favorite thing about the school is all the technology. I’m really psyched about taking 3D animation next semester,” said senior Jose Tejada, echoing the sentiments of his peers.

All the programs are infused with technology. The Center’s wireless infrastructure enables the students to easily work on their projects anywhere in the school, and students are never seen without their flipped open laptops, completely at ease with web exploration and distance learning. Students work on their learning projects at school, at home, at their business internships, even when they gather with friends on the school’s covered veranda.        

Students also gravitate to the Center’s state-of-the-art video production and editing facilities, producing 2D and 3D environments for use in video conferencing, video and multi-media projects. They are able to create multiple “virtual” backgrounds without the need for construction of sets and associated storage. Need to create a scene on Wall Street? Simply key up the appropriate background on the Chroma Key Green Screen. Video content is then enhanced in the post-production audio and video Editing Suite and exported to a variety of formats, including DVD, CD-R, or web-based presentations.  

Also on the second floor, the Graphics Design Workshop houses scanners, printers and other tools used in the fabrication of 3-D models designed in Illustrator and Photo Shop, or web-based projects using Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks.

The environment itself serves as a catalyst for collaboration and learning. Eight classrooms on the first floor encircle the “Knowledge Room,” equipped with four plasma screens and a multi-media control station, featuring movable cameras, video, audio and other presentation equipment.             

Another gathering place is the first floor Career Café, serving double-duty as a lunch spot and a site for career exploration. Under a matrix of futuristic steel beams, students learn about the educational and work experiences they need to reach their goals with the assistance of a full-time career specialist. Each student is required to create an e-portfolio including examples of their projects, a list of successfully completed courses and a resume.

As a Tech Prep national demonstration site, professional development will become an increasingly important component of the school’s evolution.  The first-floor Center for Teaching and Learning provides a venue for teachers throughout the region, state and nation to learn how to utilize new technology and methodologies.

A first-hand look at educational research put into action provides valuable insights, and visiting educators will have the enjoyable experience of seeing that CALC high school students apply what they are learning. .         

 “The building is awesome, and everyone goes out of their way to help you. My brother is in college and I’m already taking some of the same classes, so I have a head start.  We’ve been researching careers, and we found out what salaries you would earn and how much education you need. It was pretty funny because some students were surprised that they couldn’t be rock stars. My favorite thing is learning Web design, because I will use the web all my life.  Everything we learn here can be applied anywhere,” said senior Amanda Reaver. 

Our students are not the only ones learning in this unique environment. What we, as educators, are learning about new approaches to pedagogy can be applied throughout the nation. We encourage your interest in our “High School for the Digital Age,” and invite educators and business people to visit the Clark Advanced Learning Center to experience the future of learning first-hand.

Dr. Massey is a former member of the SACJTC Board of Directors and also a past president of the association.