High Tech High: A Creative Education

By Autumn Palen

The first reaction most people have upon hearing the name of my high school – “High Tech High” –  is “Hmm, nope. That sounds fictional.” This is no doubt aided by the existence of the 2005 film Sky High, an altogether flawless motion picture about teenagers with superpowers, attending high school in the sky.

***Sky High. $2.99 on most video-renting platforms. Tell your friends.

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The architecture of the school, with its many windows and open spaces, allow for a clear view of the school’s creative learning culture.

So, I may not have taken a flying bus to superhero school every day, but my learning experience was fairly unique. For one, it is tiny compared to other schools; my graduating class totaled 100 students, making for a very warm and close-knit community. Secondly, High Tech High follows a project-based curriculum. What this means is that every couple of weeks, we would have a new presentation to give, a new art piece to make, and a new topic to creatively explore.

In Spanish class, we filmed 2-minute ‘telenovelas’ in groups, writing and performing mini-episodics as we stumbled through the language.

For my 10th grade exhibition, the entire class re-enacted the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. I played Nedeljko Čabrinović, the attempted assassin who downed an expired cyanide pill and jumped into a 4-inch river in a hilariously incompetent attempt to escape the police.

In my Multimedia class, we made ‘Door Scenes,’ short films that revolved around someone opening a door. It was this class that allowed me to learn the programs Final Cut Pro and Photoshop, tools which are now integral to many of my classes. This class also offered me the opportunity to edit a video on the holocaust through the USC Shoah Foundation, long before I sent in my application to study at USC. Life is weird that way.

In 11th grade, I painted a protein related to cell death for Biology, while also writing a spoken word poem about a charity for Humanities. My class later performed our poems at an end-of-semester show, where I was approached afterwards and complemented by an unbelievably kind parent.

Every year, the week before spring break, we had Intersession. Three out of four times, I stayed on campus, doing Creative Writing. In my junior year, however, I took a trip to London and Paris, which was one of the most amazing, albeit embarrassing, experiences of my life (you can read about that adventure here).

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Most walls (and ceilings) around the school display student projects.

And at the end of each semester, we would get up in front of groups of 20-30 students and give presentations on what we had learned so far, and what we hoped to learn in the coming months. My first time, I quivered throughout the entire speech. By senior year, my public speaking anxiety was a thing of the past. I summarized my academic experience and answered questions without a single tremor of fear.

High Tech High, in all its non-conventional wonder, slowly but surely removed all anxieties I had about speaking and performing in front of groups. My high school education taught me how to approach problems creatively and how to reflect extensively on past projects, something that traditional schools may not cover as well, or at all.

I’m incredibly thankful for the time I spent at my fictional-sounding high school, and for all of the wonderfully kind students and teachers I met there.

Autumn Palen is a junior majoring in Film & TV Production, with a minor in French. She is from San Diego, California and enjoys listening to music, watching TV, traveling outside of her usual parameters whenever she can, and drawing incessantly. She also loves learning about languages and lifestyles from all around the world.