Da Vinci Schools Awarded Major Innovation Grant

June 27, 2012

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Da Vinci Schools in Los Angeles was recently recognized nationally for their innovative work in real-world and project-based learning with a Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) grant, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. With an initial grant of $150,000, and the opportunity to raise another $300,000 that is eligible for a match from NGLC, Da Vinci is one of only 8 projects selected nationwide so far under NGLC's Wave IIIa: Breakthrough School Models for College Readiness, a bold challenge to educators, innovators, and leaders to use technology to stimulate and scale the development of comprehensive, new learning models that improve college readiness and completion rates in the U.S. Originally launched in June 2010, to date the NGLC Program has awarded 48 grants totaling $18 million, with an additional $12 million available in Wave III.

The NGLC grant will help fund the start-up of a new Da Vinci charter high school in 2013 with a "blended learning" instructional approach that combines online learning with hands-on, project-based learning in the classroom, resulting in more personalized, mastery-based learning. Details of the new school, including location and staffing, are still in the planning stages.

"Da Vinci Schools is enormously honored to be the recipient of a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant and to work alongside a community of innovators and educators committed to creating transformative, cost-effective change in public education and to dramatically improving college readiness and completion," said Dr. Matthew Wunder, a Founder and Executive Director of Da Vinci Schools. "By leveraging technology and the expertise and resources of our external partners, our teachers will have the time, resources and skills to ensure all students succeed in secondary school, college and beyond."

Serving racially and socio-economically diverse high school students from across Los Angeles, the new high school will integrate components based on highly successful pilot projects at Da Vinci's existing schools:

  • Blended Learning: In a "flipped" model, students are introduced to new content and practice skills online, either at home or in a school lab. Then, students are able to apply their learning and develop deeper understanding through hands-on, inquiry based explorations in the classrooms via dynamic project-based learning with high-quality educators.
  • Early College: In partnership with Antioch University Los Angeles, Marymount College, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, El Camino College, West L.A. College and others, Da Vinci students will be able to earn college credits for free while they are still in high school and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a degree after high school, with some earning an Associate's Degree by the time they complete a Da Vinci diploma.
  • Real World Experiences: Students enrolled in the new school will benefit from Da Vinci's extensive relationships with corporate partners, including Northrop Grumman, Belkin International, Chevron, Raytheon, Boeing, DIRECTV, and many others. Internships, tinkering labs that enable students to work directly with engineers, mathematicians, scientists and designers on real-life case studies and projects, guest lecturers, job shadowing and more will enable Da Vinci students to authentically experience real-world applications of learning.

"The power of these kinds of activities on our kids is amazing - you can see them literally making the connection and realizing that something they've learned in math or science class really does have relevance to the world outside of school," said Dr. Nicole Tempel Assisi, who has helped found all three of Da Vinci's current schools and serves as Principal of Da Vinci Innovation Academy, a K-8 blended learning model. "Nothing is better than seeing a student who has really struggled suddenly become inspired, and to start talking about his future in a really ambitious way."

The new high school will allow Da Vinci to expand its reach beyond the 1,100 students it already serves at its two existing high schools, Da Vinci Design and Da Vinci Science and its K-8 model. Currently, Da Vinci has more than 675 students on its waiting list.

The latest announcement of grant winners represent the second of three cycles of funding in NGLC's $12 million third investment wave focused on identifying and supporting new secondary school and college models that use technology to reach targets for affordability and student success, especially for low-income students. Despite millions of dollars invested in education and high-level policy and legislative support, the U.S. continues to fall behind in college readiness and completion. According to the Early College High School Initiative, the U.S. college completion rate is 53%. Among under-resourced students, only 11% complete college. Low college completion rates combined with less-than-promising job prospects and outstanding student loan debt topping $1 trillion last year have many people asking, 'Is a college degree worth the price?'

"It's not enough to prepare kids to get into college," said Dr. Wunder. "We must remove the roadblocks to college completion so all students can complete their degree in less time and for less money."

About Da Vinci Schools

Da Vinci Schools operates two small, college-preparatory charter high schools, Da Vinci Science and Da Vinci Design, opened in August 2009, and a K-8 blended learning school opened in 2011, all authorized by the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, CA. Da Vinci's students are remarkably diverse, with approximately 50% qualifying for free/reduced meals, 50% Hispanic, 25% African American, and 69 different home zip codes across Los Angeles. Da Vinci Schools graduated its first class of seniors in 2012, with 100% of its students going on to college: 80% of whom were accepted into 4-year universities, and more than 90% completed their UC/CSU A-G course requirements. Notably, almost one-third of these seniors' parents never entered college, and another third have parents who attended some college, but did not earn a degree. For more information, please visit www.davincischools.org.

Da Vinci Schools worked in partnership with the following key collaborators in designing this new instructional model for the NGLC program: Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, CA, (charter authorizer); Tara Kelly (grant writing consultant), Rebecca Tomasini and Russell Ballati (Alvo Institute), Miles Denniston (Charter Schools Development Center) and Scott Milam (Afton Partners LLC); and our early college partners, Antioch University Los Angeles, Marymount College, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, El Camino College and West L.A. College.

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