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Cleveland opens school focusing on digital arts

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Marsha Dobrzynski found it a revelation when five years ago, teenagers who attended digital arts-based summer programs in Cleveland were always the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Their dedication inspired Dobrzynski, of the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning in Cleveland, to consider how a curriculum that incorporates video production, game design and digital music recording might work in a school setting. Aided by funding from two of Cleveland's most prominent foundations, she spent years doing research that resulted in the Cleveland Municipal School District's new Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts.

The school welcomed 116 freshmen for the first day of school Monday while workers buzzed about completing the space the students will be using. A new freshman class will be added each year until it becomes a four-year school. Students will attend year-round with four 10-week sessions and a three-week break in between. As an accommodation to the sleep patterns of teenagers, school will start at 9 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m.

The school will also have a standard curriculum that teaches core subjects such as math, English and the sciences. The difference, Dobrzynski said, is how digital arts will be integrated into that curriculum. Each student is responsible for a digital-based project, whether it's created individually or with a group, for the end of each grading period.

"If you give kids an opportunity to take ownership of their learning, they'll do it," Dobrzynski said.

The school's principal, John Buzzard, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, "Digital arts is an amazing area for them to be involved in."

In a school district that has problems meeting state goals for standardize testing and an abysmal graduation rate, Dobrzynski said the new school has lofty goals: 100 percent graduation rates and college acceptance rates.

In the creation of their projects, real-world questions and answers will require them to use the skills they learn in their core classes, such as budgeting and storytelling and structure.

"We've set up the curriculum in a way that it's aligned with the real world," Dobrzynski said.

The school is being funded by the district with assistance from the Gund and Cleveland foundations, which are paying for much of the equipment the students will be using, Dobrzynski said.

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