Three years, one hallway, and two makeshift buildings later, the students, faculty, and staff of Design Tech High School, or d.tech, now have a permanent home. And what a home: a purpose-built facility on the Oracle headquarters campus in Redwood Shores, California, designed and outfitted to foster the school’s innovative approach to learning and exploration.
Nestled between Oracle’s iconic blue towers and an inlet of San Francisco Bay, the new, 64,000-square-foot d.tech facility officially opened on January 9 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Oracle CEO Safra Catz, who, as chair of the board of directors of the Oracle Education Foundation, championed the new building.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am right now,” an emotional Catz told the assembled crowd, an eclectic gathering of students, parents, and Oracle employees.
“This is a massive and important collaboration,” Catz said, nodding at the gleaming $43 million facility, which would open moments later to 550 students and 40 staff embarking on a new semester.
The state-of-the-art, LEED-certified building opens midway through the school’s fourth year of itinerant existence. School seniors have journeyed from a single hallway in the local Mills High School to a San Mateo County Office of Education building that was once an auto body shop. The school’s impressive new home, Catz said, “is a testament to the resources, the ideas, the willingness, the excitement that we all bring to this amazing endeavor.”
Ken Montgomery, d.tech’s executive director, agreed: “It’s thanks to the relentless work of so many…that we’re ready to unwrap this amazing gift.”
Built For Design Thinking…and Doing
The building itself is a reflection of the charter school’s curriculum, which embraces design thinking and project-oriented teamwork.
To that end, the school’s interior and furnishings are designed to let students and educators rearrange classrooms for the activity at hand. The building also features acoustically differentiated spaces, some where students can have absolute quiet, others where they’re encouraged to speak up.
The heart of the school, a model for developing the creative and technical talent of the future, is a two-story maker space and fabrication lab. Called the Design Realization Garage (DRG), it’s an homage to the many Silicon Valley companies started in garages and to the industrial space that d.tech has occupied since 2015.
The DRG includes a ground floor of classic shop equipment, including workbenches, vices, band saws, sewing machines, and laser cutters, and a second floor for digital prototyping, including computers, 3D printers, and electronics. A large elevator connects the two, so that projects can move freely between phases of production.
The school’s goal is for every student to make use of the DRG for his or her own creative purposes. For example, one student used laser cutters to create geometric visual aids to help answer a complex question in geometry class. Another made a quilt with panels representing historical events.
A Break for Intersession
Any high school-age student who lives in California can apply to d.tech, which adheres to the same set of curriculum standards as every other public high school in the state.
In addition to its core classes, d.tech’s calendar is built around four “intersessions,” during which “students hit pause on their regular coursework for two weeks to explore subjects about which they are curious or passionate,” explained Colleen Cassity, executive director of the Oracle Education Foundation and the Oracle Giving and Oracle Volunteers programs.
During intersessions, students explore a wide range of subjects taught by nonprofits, large and small businesses, and other local professionals. “That’s one of the coolest things about d.tech: it invites the local community into students’ educational experiences,” Cassity says. “Students learn technology from Oracle employees, financial literacy from employees at major financial services firms, and culinary skills from the likes of The Boneyard and Bon Appétit Management Co.”
For example, Oracle Education Foundation staffers and the Oracle Volunteers who coach Education Foundation classes, help students design, build, code, and test prototypes of wearable technologies, IoT solutions, 3D designs, games, and more. “These classes immerse students in design thinking,” Cassity says. “That’s one of the main things that brought the Oracle Education Foundation and d.tech together in the first place—we’re all design thinkers.”
So far, she said, 132 volunteers at Oracle have donated more than 6,400 hours of their time to the school.
Aside from providing facilities and volunteer opportunities for its employees, Oracle has no say in the school’s curriculum or staffing.
Oracle employees recently received emails detailing how parking, student pick-up and drop-off, and shared facilities will work. School staff will have access to Oracle cafes and the Oracle gym, just as Oracle employees do, meaning these public school teachers will enjoy the same amenities as technology professionals, which is bound to help d.tech attract and retain top talent. Students will be allowed to visit cafes only when escorted by d.tech staff or Oracle employees. Only the basketball court at the Oracle gym will be available to students for d.tech basketball teams’ practices and home games. Oracle employees will be allowed to visit the d.tech building only for approved activities, such as volunteering.
A Long Road
Two d.tech students also spoke at the ceremony.
Senior Nick Hom discussed how the intersession program has changed his perspective on what students can accomplish, “I’m not talking about your typical science fair project volcano,” he said, “I’m talking about fully functional, fully tested projects that are ready for a final prototype, one of which is even undergoing a patent process.”
Added senior Jadene Auerbach: “We’ve come so far from our home in that hallway at Mills…and then to an auto body shop on Rollins Road,” she said. “I don’t regret a moment of it.”
Montgomery, the d.tech executive director, looked to the road ahead: “We have this amazing opportunity because of Safra’s vision and her philosophy of doing the good that’s in front of you. I want people who enter this building to do the good that is in front of them. This is going to be a place where people accomplish things that seem beyond their reach. This building is physical proof and a daily reminder of that possibility and that reality.”
Jeff Erickson is editor-at-large for Oracle.