It is 10 AM on a warm Tuesday morning and students at Cougar New Tech Academy in Walterboro, S.C. are running across parking lots and empty sports fields at the school.  This is not gym class or a fire drill. These juniors are playing “Manhunt,” a cat-and-mouse game that has one group of students searching for other classmates hiding throughout campus.  The instructors of the class, Jerolyn Murray and Mary Katharine Thorne, observe the action, but they give few directions.

What appears to be fun game of hide-and-seek is, in fact, a sophisticated exercise in teaching physics.  The students are unwittingly learning to measure speed, distance, and velocity.  The game requires "hunters" to calculate the time it takes to find each “fugitive,” the distance they moved, and their physical position in the field.  Later on, the students will use this data to determine their rates of motion.  The lesson was the brainchild of Murray and Thorne, co-teachers of the Digital Arts Physical Science (DAPS) class, an interdisciplinary course at Cougar New Tech.

 Jerolyn Murray co-teaches the Digital Arts Physical Science class, an interdisciplinary course at Cougar New Tech.

Jerolyn Murray co-teaches the Digital Arts Physical Science class, an interdisciplinary course at Cougar New Tech.

“We’re trying to teach these kids real-world skills -- collaboration, communication, and agency -- in a practical way,” said Murray. “By working together, they can get the results that they need. These are the skills that employers want and the skills students need when they graduate.”

Cougar New Tech Academy opened in August of 2013, funded by a federal i3 (Investing In Innovation) grant awarded to the Riley Institute at Furman University and KnowledgeWorks, an educational non-profit.  The Riley Institute and KnowledgeWorks used the grant to implement a different teaching methodology at the school, one focused on project-based learning that was managed by New Tech Network, another educational non-profit.  At the same time, Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton, S.C. -- best known as the home of the legal battle Briggs V. Elliott, which would eventually become the Brown V. Board of Education case -- was also converted to the New Tech model of instruction.  

 Cougar New Tech Academy in Walterboro, S.C. and Scott's Branch High School in Summerton, S.C. were converted to New Tech programs in August, 2013. Four years later, Cougar New Tech graduated all of its seniors and Scott's Branch has been named one of the country's top High Schools by  U.S. News and World Report .

Cougar New Tech Academy in Walterboro, S.C. and Scott's Branch High School in Summerton, S.C. were converted to New Tech programs in August, 2013. Four years later, Cougar New Tech graduated all of its seniors and Scott's Branch has been named one of the country's top High Schools by U.S. News and World Report.

“We believed that we could make a change in these two communities that have long been plagued by intergenerational poverty and academic under performance,” said Don Gordon, Ph.D., Director of the Riley Institute.  “The New Tech model of project-based learning gives students 21st Century skills. These skills are practical and relevant.”

New Tech Network provided the curriculum and educational training, coaching, and professional development for the teachers and staff at Cougar New Tech and Scott’s Branch High School.  New Tech focuses on project-based learning, a teaching method that promotes student-driven problem solving in the classroom.  This year, Cougar New Tech will graduate 100-percent of its seniors; the South Carolina state average is 80-percent.  Scott’s Branch has also seen success using the New Tech model.  It was named one of the best high schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report for the third time.

The films in “Turning Point South Carolina” take a look at the teachers, students, and communities that came together to bring academic achievement and much-needed hope to an area that was once called the "corridor of shame.”  Turning Point in South Carolina tells the story of how Cougar New Tech and Scott's Branch High School have been transformed into educational success stories over the past four years.  Project-Based Learning at Cougar New Tech demonstrates the methodology and philosophy behind the New Tech model of instruction.  Co-Teaching at Cougar New Tech spotlights how the school encourages interdisciplinary instruction.  And I Stay Because This Is Home profiles Detrice Brown, a life-long resident of Summerton and one of Scott Branch High School's star educators.