At Oracle HQ, class will soon be in session.
In the fall of 2018, teens will invade Silicon Valley tech giant Oracle when a public charter high school opens its doors on campus. Design Tech High School, or D.tech for short, combines personalised education and workshops taught by Oracle employee-volunteers to foster problem-solving skills in teens.
D.tech is currently housed inside a Bay Area trade school, but upon completion of the new facilities, it will become the first public high school in the US on a corporate campus. Blending a corporation with public education on the same grounds might sound strange, but it could bring better access and resources to kids living in the shadow of the major corporate campuses scattered across Silicon Valley.
The summer before D.tech first set up shop, administrators sat down with the Oracle Education Foundation to figure out how Oracle could make a positive impact. They landed on an initiative that would bring Oracle employees into D.tech to run workshops on design-centered thinking, a pillar of D.tech’s teaching.
That wasn’t enough for Oracle CEO Safra Catz.
When Colleen Cassity, executive director of the Oracle Education Foundation, came to Catz’s office to pitch the program, Catz stood up from the board room table and walked to the window.
“She pointed down 11 stories to this undeveloped parcel of land beside the Belmont Slough and said, ‘I’m pretty sure that we own that. We could build a school there,'” Cassity says.
Designing the new facility became an assignment for D.tech’s first freshmen class, who will be seniors when the building at Oracle opens.
Ken Montgomery, founder of D.tech, says students toured Oracle’s campus to get a feel for the aesthetics and met with architects and the design gurus at the Institute of Design at Stanford to develop blueprints for the new facility.
“They wanted to have part of the building that could transform into a boat and go out to sea for biology class,” Montgomery said. “That makes the zipline look doable.”
D.tech’s future home will stretch 64,000 square feet across Oracle’s campus, located across from the conference center. It does away with the traditional classroom environment, instead rotating students through glass-walled learning stations. There’s also a Design Realisation Garage where students can prototype their inventions.
Students will have access to the basketball courts in Oracle’s gym and the auditorium, though Cassity stresses that resources will only be shared selectively. Students won’t have access to the employee locker rooms, for instance, or the corporate cafeteria.
The school will be free to attend. Admission is based on a lottery system, and preference is given to students living in the San Mateo Union High School District.
Since Oracle began hosting workshops for D.tech students in 2014, 57 employees have gotten involved — including many repeat volunteers. Projects have included a pickpocket-proof purse, which syncs with a ring the owner wears to determine who’s reaching inside, and soccer shin guards that contain sensors so coaches can create real-time heat maps of player movement.
“We’re trying to build a school where we teach students that the world can be better, and they can be the ones to make it happen,” Montgomery says.
Both Montgomery and Cassity are optimistic that D.tech can serve as an example to others on how the public and private sectors may join forces to better education in America.
It’s not the first high school to attempt this kind of public/private integration. In 2014, computer hardware giant IBM opened a six-year vocational high school in Brooklyn, where students learn STEM skills and graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree. Business software company SAP followed suit that year with a similar school.
Cassity hopes that Oracle employee’s work on the ground level will help plant the seeds of innovation in students.
“Nobody told Elon Musk how to start Tesla Motors. Nobody told Larry Ellison how to create Oracle,” Cassity says. “Nobody can tell you how to innovate, you have to do it.”