By Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag

Meaningful projects, motivated students and first-in-class teachers — Da Vinci does not disappoint. Last time we were on the Da Vinci campus, three of the high schools were located in modular buildings in-between big corporate complexes. Despite the humble surroundings, we were floored by the level of engagement, student voice and choice, and the level of complexity of the projects and tasks.

Now you’ll find three of the Da Vinci high schools–Communication, Design and Science– co-located in a gorgeous new facility just south of LAX. The talented faculty have long promoted deeper learning but the new learning, maker and presentation spaces have taken their work to the next level.

The three schools were authorized by the local k-8 district. A close working relationship including shared resources led to one of the most interesting district-charter collaborations in the country. The district adopted the charters and became the K-12 Wiseburn Unified School District. Administrative teams for the district and the charter management organization share the first floor of the new building.

Matt Wunder, co-founder and CEO of Da Vinci, describes the purpose of the network: “We exist to build community and provide a quality option for students in the surrounding area.”

With over 89 zip codes served, it is no easy task to develop the sense of community felt at Da Vinci. Our student tour guide shared that Da Vinci feels like home.

A deep commitment to innovation and deeper learning is coupled with a ruthless drive to ensure students also are prepared for, and persist through, post-secondary experiences.

About 90% of students persist and retain enrollment in college (20 points higher than the National average); 73% of graduates are accepted to a 4-year school and 98% complete California’s college preparatory requirements (called A-G courses). There is a cohort of students, Da Vinci X, who are already enrolled in College for America (a program of Southern New Hampshire University) and earning college credits while at Da Vinci.

Students focus on college and post-secondary success but also are engaged in deep, meaningful projects. Students participate in a range of activities tied to their projects, including robotics design challenges, community infrastructure problem-solving and social justice advocacy efforts.

Science and Engineering teacher, Aaron Tosado leads the First Robotics team and helped students assemble well equipped mobile carts (that he’s standing between below) that they bring to competitions with them. 

Da Vinci also received the XQ prize to develop and scale RISE High, one of their schools that is most focused on wraparound services and ensuring students from the highest need areas and circumstances have options that fit their ever growing needs. Students at RISE receive ongoing support to help them tackle both academic, social/emotional and personal needs.

Da Vinci Connect is a K-8 hybrid model that leverage California’s independent study provision. Homeschool students attend the school two days a week. Families work with Connect educators to design learning pathways that connect learning at school and at home.

Despite what one might consider a common homeschool family unit (two parents and one who is able to not work and stay at home), many Da Vinci Connect families do not fit that mold and are finding unique ways to make the homeschool option work for them. There are a wide range of reasons that families choose this option, including health issues, dissatisfaction with existing options and the desire to have a more close-knit family schooling experience that more readily connects extended family members to a students learning journey than traditional models.

For great examples of deeper learning, new school models, and great district-charter collaboration put Da Vinci on your list of schools to visit.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.


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Emily Liebtag
Emily is Director of Advocacy at Getting Smart. She believes every young person deserves a world-class education and partners with educators and education-focused organizations to try and help make that a reality. Emily usually is researching and reading about project-based learning, global education, teacher preparation and place-based education. Connect with Emily at @EmilyLiebtag.
Tom Vander Ark
Tom Vander Ark is author of Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation and Charter Board Partners. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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