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New Jersey High School Challenges the Gifted

High Technology High School outperformed every other school in AP exam participation and success.

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"All the classes are geared towards getting them out there in the real world," says Pamela MacNeill, director of the school's mentorship program. She says that, occasionally, students will enjoy engineering coursework before finding that real-world engineering isn't for them. "It's the best thing in the world as far as I'm concerned—that they're not wasting four years in college and spending all that money." 

Jessica Beck, a senior who plans to study veterinary medicine in college, says she doesn't regret attending High Tech. "Engineering is a great background, even if you're going into humanities, because it teaches you how to solve problems," she says.

[Learn more about the science and math education crisis in our STEM Education Resource Center.] 

Such analytical thinking is a requirement at High Tech, where disciplinary action usually comes in the form of—what else?—a research project. If a student is caught cheating, which is extremely rare, Simon will have students research what would happen if they were caught in college, or plagiarizing in their career field. "Everything is about real-life application," he says. "It's teaching them that there are real, hard consequences that go along with this stuff in the real world." 

Five of High Tech's teachers are former practicing engineers, something Simon says is an integral part of the school's success. 

"The beauty of that is they know the field. They can make reference to something they experienced," he says. "They're book smart and street smart." 

Learning from a successful engineer might motivate some students, but the faculty and students say the almost-collegial atmosphere is really the key to High Tech. Every locker in High Tech High stays open during the school day, filled with students' belongings. Simon says it's a sign of the students' trust for one another.

During free time, seniors hang out in the downstairs commons excitedly chatting, challenging each other to chess, or studying. Almost every student participates in an extracurricular activity. In just a few years, the math team went from being a small club to being forced to have tryouts. 

"They feel safe about that kind of unquenchable thirst for knowledge," he says. "They're not ashamed of the fact that they are studious and academically gifted."

See U.S. News's coverage of Best High Schools for rankings, STEM news, and more.