Middle school students in Polk County have recorded a significant improvement in learning achievement this year, thanks to a grant from the Verizon Foundation.The Polk County Schools system was one …
Middle school students in Polk County have recorded a significant improvement in learning achievement this year, thanks to a grant from the Verizon Foundation.
The Polk County Schools system was one of a handful of systems across the nation to receive a $1.25 million technology grant from Verizon, with assistance from Digital Promise.
The grant provided around 600 iPads to all middle school students, and their teachers, at Copper Basin High School and at Chilhowee Middle School in Benton.
Not only did the grant provide the electronic devices, it also gave each recipient five gigs of data per month, as well as professional training, monitoring of the program's success, and other assistance.
Dr. Jason Bell, of the central office, was the main grant application writer. One assistant was former Copper Basin Principal Dr. Ryan Goodman, who was later named grant administrator.
Dr. Goodman, in a Wednesday interview, praised the Verizon Foundation for awarding the grant to school Ssystem, an effort by the corporation to reach out to a small, more rural community.
In the launch and management of the "Verizon Innovative Learning School," the former principal said there were a number of challenges, but that collaboration helped efficiently meet those challenges.
Goodman anticipates the program will continue for a second year, with a strong option for a third year.
He is also expecting VILS program to expand in the future, trickling down to cover Polk County's elementary grades.
The iPads were distributed to students of the two schools back in September, in a "Roll Out Night," which included family members and administrators.
Administration had determined they would self-insure the maintenance and upkeep of the devices, deciding it would take around $20 per unit. To raise these funds, they asked the parents to help.
"The response was outstanding," said Goodman. "Several parents paid the fees for parents who were unable to pay." Goodman emphasized every student received an iPad, regardless of a family's current ability to pay.
He added that this pool has adequately covered all additional expenses of the iPads in the learning program.
There have been some spinoff benefits from the VILS. The two middle schools have each established a tech team made up of students, some of whom have even assisted their instructors.
There are 34 teachers involved in the program, 24 at Chilhowee Middle and 10 at Copper Basin. Middle school is three grades in Benton, and only two at the high school on the mountain.
Goodman said VILS focuses on four outcomes: Student engagement; An increase in achievement; Teacher/student efficiency in technology; and An increase in experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) possibilities.
Chilhowee Middle School Principal Connie Dunn said it is amazing what this technology has provided to a number of students. She said they are much more engaged and outgoing with this technology, than they were in the classroom.
Goodman shared a statement from Copper Basin teachers Amber Daly and Andrea Yates.
As for one student, they said, "Having the iPads and access to technology at all times have turned his attitude and grades around. He has shown a marked increase in interest at school. We've also noted his social skills and interactions have improved, as well as his test data. His attitude (about school) has changed, and the obvious reason is VILS."
Principal Dunn added that though she is not directly involved with the learning experience, she has noticed that many students are more engaged.
The Chilhowee student tech team is coordinated by teachers Christal Morris and Kim Moorehouse. Goodman said the program's iPads and other equipment are monitored and maintained by the team of IT Director Laura Barnette.
The program's administrator said there have been marked improvements for a majority of teachers and students, and much more collaboration. "I'm really impressed by how our teachers have embraced this change," he said.
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