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e3 Civic High: A model for 21st century Education

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One of e3 Civic High’s comfortable and flexible seating areas.

There are key points in time that change the course of history. This was the situation in 2008, when the needs of the San Diego Public Library and the San Diego Unified School District converged, which ultimately resulted in San Diego becoming the first major metropolitan city in the United States to integrate a high school into a large central library.

For years, the need for a new Central Library loomed large for the community, but the city was still short of funding needed to construct it. SDUSD was in need of a downtown high school to relieve the overcrowding in nearby high schools and address the anticipated growth downtown. This is when the idea took flight to incorporate a charter high school on the sixth and seventh floors of the new Central Library, which had been designated until then as tenant space for eventual future growth of the library.

SDUSD agreed to pay the city of San Diego $20 million toward construction of the new Central Library in exchange for a 40-year lease to create a high school within the library. This collaboration helped propel the momentum toward approval of the new Central Library construction, and set a new course for libraries and schools of the future.

On Sept. 3, 2013, the new charter school, e3 Civic High, opened with 260 ninth- and tenth-grade students. The plan is to add a grade each year through the 2015 academic year, when there will be more than 500 students.

e3 Civic High is focused on preparing students for college and their careers by providing them with real world challenges to solve. “This is why our partnerships with business and government are so important to students,” said Dr. Helen Griffith, e3 Civic High’s executive director. “This opportunity is exciting to students because it is a perfect synergy of location, curriculum and connections.”

The location of e3 within the library offers extensive opportunities for mutual collaboration, as both organizations support a mission of lifelong learning and literacy. The students will have access to all of the rich resources of the Central Library, expertise of specialized reference librarians, tutoring in the Homework Center and online, opportunities to intern in the library system, access to small and group study rooms, and the relaxed and engaging environment of the Library’s Teen Center.

In addition, students will have access to the YES! Learning Lab, a multimedia studio facility that develops television production skills, stop-motion animation, music recording, webcasting, web publishing and game creation. They will also have access to the IDEA (Innovation and Digital Expression Activity) Lab, which includes a 3-D printer and 10 high-end computers with software for graphic design, photo editing, architectural design, music production video editing and technology. City Television staff will also serve as consultants and mentors to the school’s digital media program.

The partnership between the San Diego Central Library and e3 Civic High is a huge triumph in creative partnering and collaboration. The students and the community are already greatly benefiting from bringing these two organizations together in one location. More than 40 other organizations throughout the community, including business, colleges and universities, have agreed to partner with e3 Civic High in providing internships, teacher training and development, concurrent college enrollment, and ensuring that students are "future-ready."

The collaborative possibilities are just beginning to come to fruition. It will be fascinating to see how this model for 21st century education continues to evolve and becomes a catalyst for more cities as they study San Diego’s educational success story. For more information about e3 Civic High, visit their website at e3civichigh.com.

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