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High Tech High Buzzing With Excitement

High Tech High International is the only California school to qualify in the national commencement competition to lure President Barack Obama to their graduation ceremony.

The school is one of six in the competition and Obama will pick a school from the top three, which will be voted on by the public.

Voting ends at 9 p.m. tomorrow and Dean of students Melissa Agudelo said students, teachers and staff are excited and hopeful at the possibility of winning.

"It’s just been an amazing unification effort at the school and I think we feel really confident as a result," Agudelo said.

The video submission for the competition was a collaborative effort. High Tech High senior Will Stoker helped work on the video and can be seen at the end.

"You know, I think we’re going to do pretty well -- hopefully," Stoker said. "We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who’ve seen the video."

One reason the school is in the running is their philosophy - learning by doing means better student performance.

"We want kids not just getting a paper and a C minus and throwing it in the trash, but making something that has lasting value and presenting it to professionals in the field and getting feedback and seeing themselves enter the adult world," said High Tech High Chief Administrative Officer Ben Daley.

Project-based learning focuses students on specific projects and allows teachers to put students on a path to deepen their knowledge and build skills they'll need in the future.

"We think that kids should be engaged in the work they're doing and they should produce meaningful work for a real audience," Daley said.

The emphasis at High Tech High is on critical thinking, collaboration and communications - things often missing in traditional classrooms.

"Ninety-eight percent of our graduates have gone off to college. Seventy-five percent have either graduated college or are still enrolled at this point," Daley said.

High Tech High started with 200 students and 12 teachers in 2000. It will grow to 4,500 students, 200 teachers and 11 schools in three locations this fall.

The school is already known around the world through videos plastered all over the Web. Now students at High Tech High International are using the same techniques to lure Mr. Obama.

"There's a lot of talk in President Obama's campaign about the 21st century workforce," sai Rishika Daryanani, a senior and chair of the commencement ceremony project.

"If you look around what that actually means is technological skills, leadership skills, ethics," Daryanani said. "And all of those things are embodied in High Tech High International. We produce videos, we're out in the community doing good work and I think that really sets us apart from the other schools."

At least half of the 88 senior class members were involved in the project. Students had a two-day deadline to shoot, produce and edit a three-minute video of why they should be considered for the honor.

School officials have no idea where the school stands in the competition's ranking or how many people have voted so far, but according to Agudelo, roughly 175,000 people voted in last year's competition.

In the last few days, students have been handing out fliers to encourage people to vote.

"You’ve got a collective 400 people in this building, so 800 fingers are crossed," Agudelo said.

The public can vote on their favorite school at the Whitehouse website until 9 p.m. Friday. Three finalists will be picked. President Obama is expected to choose the winner by May 6th.

Sarah Kovash also contributed to this story

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