This High School Student Is Keeping It Real
It’s a familiar story. At 13, Philip Chrzanowski disliked school. It’s not that he struggled with his studies or that he clashed with his teachers. He was just plain bored.
“I was always a good student,
but school just didn’t in-
terest me,” he says. “I
would answer the
questions, but not in
depth, because I just
So when one of his
teachers suggested that
he attend high school
at Nex+ Gen Acad-
trict, he jumped
at the chance. The
academy is dif-
ferent than most
Its focus is
and access to software that they use to
make movies; learn programming; and
study math, languages, and more. They
work in teams, and the students decide
how to handle their assignments.
So how does Philip like school
now? “I’ve learned so much from this
school in such a short period of time,”
he says. “Our school offers a way for
you to come and challenge yourself.
The creativity comes from us, and we
make our own education.”
Take the award-winning film that
Philip, now 15, created last year with
three teammates, Adelle Blauser,
Deven Mettling, and Hannah Couse.
The assignment was to make a film
that would be a sequel to a popular
children’s book that they could show
students at a nearby elementary school.
Philip’s team chose The Rainbow Fish, a
story about a conceited fish with beau-
tiful scales who loses all his friends,
until he chooses to share his glimmer-
ing scales with others.
Philip’s team wanted to do something different. Instead of making
a sequel to the book, they created a
prequel. “We decided to take the story
in an alternate route and make him an
ugly fish and explain how he got his
scales,” he says.
Under Philip’s leadership, they
wrote the script, created the artwork and animation, and narrated the video ( www.youtube.com/
who has experience in graphic design,
worked on the colorful underwater
“We all worked together,” Philip says
of his team. “Without one person, it
would have been difficult to pull off.”
Julie Lopes, the teacher who assigned
the video project, says Philip thrives
on authentic, hands-on projects. “He
loves how ‘real’ our projects are,” she
says. “He is quickly disengaged if he
perceives work is simulated.”
Lopes entered the video into the
Digital Desert Youth Film Festival in
Albuquerque, where it took third place
last spring. After the film was complete,
Lopes asked Philip if he and his team
would discuss the project-based learn-
ing process with dignitaries from the
New Mexico Department of Education,
and he immediately agreed.
“Although this required a great deal
of preparation and work above and
beyond all his other responsibilities,
he willingly gathered his group and
developed a presentation,” Lopes says.
“He took a leadership role in schedul-
ing meetings and work sessions with
his team to get the job done. And he
did this as a freshman!”
Philip’s passion is design and pro-
gramming. He’s learning C++ mostly
on his own, with some guidance from
teachers. He wants to design video
games one day.
“I was never good at art or writing,
so this is my art. I know a lot about
video games and programming,”
And he’s lucky to attend a school, he
adds, that takes his passion seriously.
—Diana Fingal is senior editor of L&L.
Student Profiles highlight kids who use technology in creative and authentic ways.