Patrick O’Donnell, The Plain Dealer
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CLEVELAND, Ohio – It sounds like a teenager’s dream: A high school where you listen to music, watch movies and play video games all day.
At the planned Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts, film, music and video games won’t be things a student does behind the backs of teachers. They’ll be part of every lesson and project and assignment students have to turn in.
But, sorry kids, playing Grand Theft Auto or watching the new Hunger Games flick won’t be the norm at the school, which could be open to Cleveland students by the fall. Marsha Dobrzynski of the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, formerly known as Young Audiences, hopes to have the Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts open by the fall.
Games, films and music will just be the way you learn about the usual core subjects of math and history and science. And you’ll be using those art forms to show what you’ve learned. You’ll be creating games or making films about topics that students in other schools write papers or take tests about.
“It’s a tool,” said the school’s champion, Marsha Dobryzynski, of the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, a Shaker Square non-profit formerly known as Young Audiences. “They’re going to use them as tools to access core content. It’s the hook to help them learn.”
Dobrzynski added: “They’re not going to come to school to play games. They’re going to come to school to create games.“
The school is still in early planning stages. It doesn’t have a location, principal, or teachers yet. And curriculum planning has just started, Dobrzynski said.
But the school has early support from the district and from the Cleveland and George Gund foundations, who work closely with the district. An application for nearly $400,000 for the school’s startup cost was one of the district’s four requests from the state’s new Straight-A innovation fund this fall.
The grant application described the school as “the first Ohio public school to utilize digital arts as a means to actively engage students who struggle to learn in traditional school models, as well as to meet the needs of students who may be interested in a career in technology fields. CHSDA students will learn both digital arts and core content and demonstrate learning, understanding and application of math, science, English Language Arts, social studies, and other art forms with the creation of digital products– games, recordings, or films – that shows mastery of essential concepts. “
The request sought, among other costs, $110,000 for a curriculum director and technology director, $75,000 to build and equip a recording arts studio, $92,000 for a film editing lab, and $20,000 for a 3D printer, laptops for teachers, smartboards and other equipment.
Because the state did not award the grant, Dobrzynski said she is seeking other grants or donations to start serious planning. She said she should know by the end of January if the school is likely to start in the fall, or will need another year of planning.
Helen Williams, the education programs director of the Cleveland Foundation, said the school will add another choice for students as part of the Cleveland school district’s portfolio model, in which students can pick schools with specialized styles.
Williams compared the School for the Digital Arts to the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at the John Hay campus or the technology-centric MC2STEM High School that’s split between Cleveland State University, the Great Lakes Science Center and General Electric’s Nela Park campus.
Like those schools, Williams said that Digital Arts will teach through hands-on projects, help students understand possible careers in digital arts and hopefully link students to internships and workplace experiences.
“It’s a growing field from a commercial point of view and an employment point of view, and something that really intrigues a lot of young people,” Williams said. “We’re very excited about it. It will be a different kind of learning environment and it will add to the district’s choices.”
Dobrzynski said the concept came out of an arts-based job training called ArtWorks that Young Audiences started in 2005. She said that four years ago, the program added digital arts – recording and digital game design.
“That’s where teenagers are today,” she said. “They’re very comfortable working in digital media.”
She said she was struck with how engaged students were in the digital work. They came in early and stayed late as they tried to figure out how to make their projects work.
Since the program wasn’t letting students make “shooter games,” students had to create more detailed scenarios. That led to them having to research the settings, whether historical or location – to make the games more realistic.
Students had to learn math and programming details, along with graphic design, to create the games. Recording and film projects needed splicing and editing skills. And every film needs a script, which had students writing and researching topics for documentaries.
“Kids were taking responsibility for their own learning,” she said.
So she started thinking about using digital arts as the model for an entire school. She found a few schools that did parts of it – the High Tech High charter school model in San Diego, the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul, Minn., and the Quest to Learn schools in New York – but none use digital arts the way she envisions.
“it’s a very unique concept,” Dobrzynski said. There are bits and pieces of this around the country and this is a way to put it all together.