Avella bringing classrooms “into the 21st century”

Superintendent: Tech devices are a ‘win-win’

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Avella School Board voted on a sweeping update of the district’s technological capabilities at Wednesday’s meeting, including purchasing Google Chromebooks for all students in grades seven through 12.


“We’re moving forward to move our classrooms into the 21st century,” said Avella Superintendent Janell Logue-Belden.


Logue-Belden said the board passed a motion to use $150,000 from the general fund to make the junior-senior high school building wireless, install new switches for the computer network, provide professional development for teachers and kick off the “1-to-1” Chromebook initiative with Google.


“They’re not tablets,” Logue-Belden said. “They’re like a netbook, but nicer. The whole point is to move instruction into the modern realm while meeting the common core all districts are responsible for.”


Chromebooks are small computers integrated with the Internet via a secure “cloud” that constantly updates the hardware using an educational version of the Google Play store. Students will not have the ability to download programs, but each device will be constantly updated through an online administrator.


Students will be able to use their smartbooks to access educational applications in the cloud, produce shared documents, collaborate in real time with other students and catch lessons they may have missed because of absences.


“We’re doing what we’ve always done,” Logue-Belden said. “But now students have iPhones, tablets and smartphones. I wanted to make sure we were mirroring the real world.”


Logue-Belden said students are expected to work with technology in the workforce and on college campuses, so it makes sense to introduce these ideas in the classroom.


“We hope to be on the leading edge of technology in schools,” Logue-Belden said. “Few schools are doing this. I feel it’s really important to keep up with what’s happening in society and the way students are learning.”


Despite the $150,000 price tag, administrators hope the improvements will eventually prove to be cost-neutral. Fundraising initiatives have begun in order to help offset costs. Washington Financial donated $10,000 to the district in the form of a technology grant. School officials also have been seeking corporate donors through the state Department of Education’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. Residents can make private donations through a drive on the website DonorsChoose.org, a funding site where citizens can support specific projects.


Logue-Belden said the benefits of eliminating paper books, lightening students’ bookbag burdens and the district’s ecological footprint, also come with an economic driver. In the last three years, the district spent $150,000 in textbooks.


“This is educational,” Logue-Belden said, “yet it’s saving us money. It’s just a win-win.


Open source documents, freeware and shareware will allow school to drastically reduce the cost of primers, while new software will allow teachers to custom-tailor curriculum by creating textbooks of their own – at little to no cost.


“The curriculum should never depend on a textbook,” Logue-Belden said. “The lesson should already be there and the textbook should just enhance it.”


Logue-Belden said educators would be armed with a whole new arsenal of scholastic weaponry.


“Say a teacher is doing a lesson on Abraham Lincoln,” Logue-Belden said. “In addition to the traditional lesson, there’s so much more they can do. They’ll also be able to put in video clips, documents from that time, web quests and create fictional Facebook pages from their desks.”


Also in Wednesday’s meeting, board members discussed a possible road closure on Route 50 that may disrupt school bus routes. Logue-Belden said the board also was considering sending a petition to Range Resources asking them to create signage warning drivers to be considerate of students waiting for busses in light of increased truck traffic on district roads.


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