Wander the halls of Discovery High School at Newton Conover on any given day and you will immediately see that this is not a traditional high school. Students might be sitting in the hall working on laptops, or writing on a “chalk-talk” board where students respond to open-ended questions, or they might be filming videos for a class project. If you happen to venture outside, the students might be sitting and eating at outdoor tables, or working in the school greenhouse. You might have passed one or two students on your way in, blowing leaves or tidying up the memorial garden. Students might be in the media center, working on online classes, or in the creativity room painting, or filming in front of a green screen.
These students do not fit the stereotype of a surly teenager, though they are certainly teenagers. They are polite. They answer questions from visitors. They continue about their business. Teachers move in and out of these places purposefully interacting with these students. The teachers ask questions, call the students by name, and might challenge student thinking. Other teachers might be lecturing in classrooms or helping students working on projects. A visitor might recognize semblances of their own experience in high school, but there are also major differences.
And that’s just the way they want it at Discovery High School.
Discovery was started as a “redesigned” high school within the framework of the New Schools Project in NC. Initially funded by money from Gates grants to New Schools, Discovery is now funded entirely by Newton Conover City Schools. DHS is a public magnet school and is seen as an alternative to the traditional high schools in the area. Students from the area must apply to attend, and Discovery staff interviews every student who applies.
Currently, there are 196 students who attend Discovery High School. School officials would like to get that number to about 250 students total and to stay around that number for the foreseeable future. The idea is that a small school is more like a family. Students and teachers know each other well and thus, relationships are formed. A certain level of trust between teachers and students lends to a more fluid and open environment. Students are often self motivated and allowed to incorporate their own interests into their school projects.
Discovery is a project based, 1:1 laptop school. Students work individually, in pairs, or groups using the latest technologies to learn curriculum. They produce work and take tests just like at other schools. The pathways to learning just might be different.
In their less than 10 years in existence, Discovery has won many major accolades and awards. ASCD, PD360, and MTV have all filmed on campus to highlight DHS and the innovation taking place there. In 2008, Discovery won the Innovator Award from NC New Schools. DHS has presented at the Model Schools conference, and the NC New Schools conference. In 2015, they were named as a top 20 high school in NC by the Washington Post. US News and World Report put them in the top 30 high schools in NC. They recently became the only high school in NC to be named as an Exemplar School by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.
With all of this recognition, Discovery still continues to strive for excellence. They continue to challenge tradition and examine assumptions. Discovery High School is an ever evolving entity and they are looking for creative, self-directed, hard-working students. Applications for next year have gone live on the DHS website and can be found Here.