Some school districts embracing technology, others trying to keep up

Some school districts embracing technology, others trying to keep up

August 16, 2014
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
The last computer lab in Washington High School with old computers will be upgraded with new equipment. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Bytespeed computers line the walls in computer labs at Washington High School. Order a Print
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Earl Neel, network administraor for Washington School District, tests one of the many new Bytespeed computers in one of several updated computer labs at the high school. Order a Print
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Computer technician Steve Noon displays one of many new Chromebooks stored in cabinets at Washington High School. Order a Print
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John Menhart, superintendant of the Carmichaels Area School District, takes a look at the progress of a computer lab with Michael Allen of Accelerated Construction Services of Morgantown. Allen’s company is the project manager for the district’s $25 million renovation project. Order a Print
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New cabinets for a lab room in Carmichaels Area School District remained in packaging last week. Order a Print

There’s no guarantee that having laptops, iPads or other technology-related items available in classrooms will increase test scores. But Trisha Craig, the director of curriculum at Fort Cherry School District, said they are definitely making learning more interesting.

“You engage the students with technology,” Craig said. “It allows you to meet the needs of diverse learners and it makes learning fun.”

Fort Cherry is just one of several school districts in Greene and Washington counties that are fully embracing technology and making it more accessible to their students. Most districts have spent the summer break updating older equipment, purchasing and preparing Chromebooks, iPads and tablets for student use or preparing their systems to allow students to use their own devices in school when they return in the next few weeks.

Others have been busy readying new equipment, like 3-D printers, for their science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs.

Craig said Fort Cherry has devoted a large amount money over the last 15 years to technology. While a number of existing computers and laptops were updated over the summer, Craig said the district spent over $170,000 to purchase 268 Chromebooks, five sound systems, three high-definition cameras, one iMac system, 60 laptops, computer towers and wireless upgrades and to create a new sound room at the high school to allow for the production of music.

“We’re very excited,” Craig said. “We are opening up future opportunities for our students.”

Charleroi Area School District Superintendent Ed Zelich said embracing technology is still new territory for many districts and their personnel. He said some teachers are more willing to use it than others. Regardless, Zelich said his district is looking to make things a little easier by allowing students to use their personal devices in the classrooms.

“Technology drives how these students learn,” he said.

Zelich said the district is in the early stages of unveiling a program allowing students to bring their own device. It’s a cheaper alternative to regularly updating equipment. Laptops will be provided to students who don’t own personal devices, Zelich said.

“It will save the district a lot of money in the long run,” he said.

BYOD will be piloted at the high school in the second half of the year. If all goes well, Zelich said the students’ devices will join the arsenal of interactive whiteboards and laptops kept in each classroom. Zelich said the district looked at purchasing Chromebooks instead, but the investment and high turnover made it less attractive.

While some districts are busy embracing the latest and greatest, others are just trying to keep what they have running. Bentworth School District Superintendent Scott Martin said that while the district added an overhead projector to the middle school, its budget and state funding have been limiting factors when it comes to offering more.

“We are just trying to keep what we have running,” he said. “The PTO purchased the projector.”

Carmichaels School District Superintendent John Menhart said the district is “trying to move in the right direction” with technology, but costs and location make it a challenge. Although there are interactive whiteboards in every classroom and the students have access to computers, the district can’t accommodate additional items.

“The district isn’t one-to-one,” Menhart said.

Nor is Menhart keen on BYOD.

“It’s a great advantage to the kids who have them,” he said. “But the kids who don’t will only fall further behind.”

While he’s pushing for more technology in the classroom, Menhart said subject and teacher dictate what technology is used and how.

Over at West Greene School District, school officials have been investigating different possibilities. After a “significant” purchase of desktop computers and laptops this year, Superintendent Thelma Szarell said the district is doing it’s best to provide “all students with something.”

“We want to guarantee students will be on an even playing field in college or in the job market,” she said. “Especially since were are a rural district and not everyone has access to the Internet.”

Fritz Fekete, the communication and organizing program consultant for the Southwestern region of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said districts are doing the best they can to keep up when it comes to integrating technology. Software and equipment are ever-changing and budgets are tight.

Nonetheless, districts are realizing the importance and potential of providing their students with access to technology.

“We have been focusing on providing students with different technology so that when they graduate, they’ve had a diverse experience,” Fort Cherry’s Craig said. “You never know where they are going to end up, and you want to provide them with every opportunity possible.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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