As we begin to turn the corner from spring to summer, one thing is for certain: the annual tradition of sending students forth into the “real world”–graduation day–is fast approaching. For many students, the thought of transitioning from high school to beyond is not only enticing and exhilarating, but can be daunting and frightening as well.

Those students who have gone through the process of seeking out and selecting post-high school educational or professional opportunities have been experiencing additional layers of apprehension and anxiety. Testing. Applications. Essays. Acceptance letters. The post-secondary process is certainly a trial of stamina and resilience, where the ups and downs are largely personal and often kept close to home. But now, high schools across the nation have found a way to celebrate and recognize the post-secondary success of all schools, not just aspiring athletes, with Senior Signing Day.

On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, Senior Signing Day was celebrated at New Tech High School in Napa, CA. New Tech High is part of the ever-growing network of schools utilizing a project-based learning (PBL) focus as designed by the non-profit organization, New Tech Network (NTN). NTN began with New Tech High in Napa in the mid-90s and has now grown to include over 150 schools in 26 states and Australia.

NTN schools are unique in their approach to learning, which “engages students with dynamic, rigorous curriculum.” NTN schools also have strong professional development and coaching components, so that “teachers evolve from keepers of knowledge to facilitators of rich, relevant learning.” Above all, NTN schools are focused on dramatically increasing student achievement and celebrating those accomplishments.

So, it’s no wonder that when Riley Johnson, Principal at New Tech High School, and a colleague came across a video of YES Prep’s Senior Signing Day they decided to hold a similar event at their school. In his blog about New Tech High’s inaugural 2016 event, Johnson says, “We were moved and decided to replicate it at our school.”

So on Senior Signing Day at New Tech High, students and faculty gathered at a special assembly to hear 31 students (one third of the graduating class) proudly announce, one-by-one, which college or branch of the military they had committed to attend following graduation in addition to signing a ceremonial Letter of Intent.

After a long and arduous process of determining their post-secondary future, Senior Signing Day allows students, faculty and families to come together and celebrate the hard work and future-focus of these students in an inclusive and welcoming environment. The event is not just for students attending traditional four-year college or universities, but also welcomes participation from students attending junior, community or technical colleges and those joining the military.

At New Tech High, Senior Signing Day isn’t just for seniors, but benefits the rest of the student body as well. Not only does it celebrate “the success and perseverance of 4 years of high school” but also “sets a pathway and goal for underclassmen to strive for.” According to Principal Johnson, “Where do I start?  What questions do I have?  What do I have to do to get in there? Who do I talk to?” were just some of the comments overheard from underclassmen following the event.

And while the event at New Tech High was special and unique in its own way, it is one part of a much larger effort to expand such events across the nation. As part of her Reach Higher Initiative, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama presented a call-to-action for people  to implement Senior Signing Day events in their community—all to take place simultaneously on April 26th.

The concept of Senior Signing Day is modeled after National Signing Day. Traditionally occurring in early February, National Signing Day is what we see all over TV: a high school senior declaring and signing a binding National Letter of Intent for the college they will attend and play football for. Media coverage of this day is typically reserved for highly publicized, aggressively sought after athletes.

In response, the effort of Senior Signing Day is to shift the focus of celebration from athletics to academics. It allows schools like New Tech High to share in the excitement of this critical moment in students’ lives. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of receiving that first and/or most-important acceptance letter, and now all students across the nation, regardless of their athleticism, have the opportunity to share that joy with people who had integral parts in shaping their future: staff and fellow students. As Principal Johnson at New Tech High reiterates, “It was an amazing experience for staff and students alike.”

For more information on New Tech High’s Senior Signing Day, including quotes and student perspectives, read “30 New Tech seniors sign letters of intent… for academics” from the Napa Valley Register.

Interested in implementing a Senior Signing Day event at your school? Check out the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative page, which includes a Senior Signing Day Toolkit and Pocket Reference Guide.

For more information on project-based learning:


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