Students entering the Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship for the first time on Monday quickly noticed things were different.
The new school, on Cambridge Avenue north of Fresno City College’s Euless Park, looks more like a university campus than a public high school.
The open, modern design of the $12 million school building features no desks for students. Instead, there are round tables for group meetings.
Students are encouraged to write their ideas on the school’s glass walls with markers during brainstorming sessions. Class starts around 9 a.m. to mimic the average work day, and teachers often work together in teams to encourage collaboration among students.
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“I’m not going to stand up at the front of the classroom and lecture,” history teacher Sue Gularte told students Monday, the first day of school for the Fresno Unified School District. “Sometimes you work apart and sometimes you work together. It works like a company.”
Patiño is the first public high school in the country that aims to graduate all students with a well-developed plan to start their own business. Nearly 150 10th-graders make up the inaugural class, and over the next few years, will fine-tune their start-up business ideas, work side-by-side with local business leaders and ultimately have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors.
The nontraditional curriculum aims to promote individual students’ creativity, weaving basic subjects into real-world lessons that develop leadership skills and can help make a student’s business plan a reality.
Some students came to school on Monday with their business ideas already in mind.
Guadalupe Depaz, 15, wants to design a clothing line made especially for short women like herself, saying she’s struggled to find clothes that accommodate her height. Daniella Guerra, 15, wants to focus on business law, with goals of pursuing a career in criminology.
“Everyone wants to do something different. Everyone has different ideas,” Guerra said. “Here, you can focus on that, so by the time you get to college, you’re already prepared.”
The school, which was named after a longtime Fresno educator who died in 2012, does not accept freshman, and students must be on track academically to attend.
Monday was the first day of “disorientation” – a way teachers are pushing students to accept new ways of learning outside of the framework they’ve always known.
“We’re trying to help students get out of what they think school should be like and the expectations associated with that,” Patiño Principal Brett Taylor said. “We have to get into the mindset of, ‘I’m in charge of my education.’”
A first-day assembly was held on Monday morning, where district Superintendent Michael Hanson and school board member Christopher De La Cerda joined Taylor in welcoming the inaugural class.
Taylor promised students that he would learn 150 special handshakes — one for each student. To Taylor, the handshakes symbolize the importance of tailoring the school experience to each child.
One student was quick to show Taylor his handshake on Monday: a relaxed high-five, low-five, pat-on-the-back combination. Taylor quickly got it down.
“Every single one of you deserves an education that was designed especially for you,” Taylor told students. “The goal is to respect your individuality, but respect others’ individuality too. That’s how a team works.”