KAPOLEI (KHNL) - For most students, the start of another school year means going back to the classroom, to learn from heavy, expensive textbooks. But a Kapolei school is at the cutting edge of teaching, virtually eliminating books all together.
It's the first of its kind in Hawaii. It relies heavily on technology and a group learning environment. The concept of sitting by yourself with a book in front of you is a thing of the past.
The American Renaissance Academy seems like a typical school until you look closely. Each student has a laptop computer and their textbooks are online.
"If we want to look up a book on the Internet or find resources for our history project or science," said Brianna Fernandez, a 15-year-old 10th grader at the school. "We can do that instantly with a computer, other than having to go to the library and look up a book."
This means hauling a backpack full of books is a thing of the past. Most coursework and homework assignments are available online. So, a small laptop computer carrying case is pretty much all they need.
Even homework assignments are done online, and the feedback is instantaneous. Using technology to teach students is a core principle of this "school of tomorrow."
"We decided that we're going to have all of our students be in an online learning environment because we see it as the future of education where students are not always going to be face to face with a teacher," said Richard Schaffer, president of the school. "They're going to be in a remote location, dealing with a teacher, sometimes on Skype, sometimes visual communication, sometimes just on the computer."
Papers aren't eliminated all together, but traditional teaching methods are flipped around, literally. This art class teaches students to draw upside down, but includes technology in the process.
"So rather than printing out lots and lots of pages of paintings as resource material, we use the computer," said Carol Bendell-Wiers, a fine arts faculty member. "We have them search themselves for the images. And very often they get very excited about finding different things than they expected and that can certainly stimulate their ideas about creativity."
Although technology isn't a big part of a first grade classroom, it's still part of the curriculum.
"And they'll be using the Internet for an online foreign language program," said Monique Ohanessian, a first grade faculty member. "And basically getting them introduced to them because we know they're already getting introduced to it at home by parents and because they're inquisitive at that age."
The point is, when they get older, learning on the Internet will be second nature to them.
"In my old school all the time, we'd learn things because we had to learn them, not because we were actually going to use them," said Jake Schaffer, a 15 ½-year-old 11th grader. "And that doesn't happen here."
The school of tomorrow, today.
And because almost everything is online, a student who is out sick can keep up with schoolwork, and not get behind.