The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 21, 2013

Chamber members get first-hand look at technology in education

Students eager, excited, want to be challenged, teacher says

BECKLEY — The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce went back to school Wednesday to learn about the innovation and technological advancements taking place in Raleigh County Schools.

These changes are meant to better engage students and ultimately improve the county’s assessment score, attendance rates, and graduation rates as well as prepare children to compete globally in their chosen fields.

In their first chamber meeting ever held at the board of education office, business leaders in Raleigh County got to visit Jill Wright’s kindergarten class from Beckley Elementary, who were working on their MimioSprout reading program in the board library.

After kindergartners work their way through the 80 MimioSprout episodes, they should be reading at a second grade level.

“They have responded beautifully. They are eager. They are excited. They want to be challenged,” said Wright. “If they know they have read me episode 52 and I pull out episode 40, that is the first thing they notice. They don’t want the easier text. They want to work at their level and above, and that is a big deal. The beauty of this program is that they can work at their level and progress according to their growth.”

Four of Wright’s students have already completed all 80 episodes.

Sandra Sheatsley, director of federal programs, said having children engaged in an active classroom from an early age will help keep kids in school.

Superintendent Jim Brown added that Raleigh County, currently ranked 41st in the state in attendance, has an increased problem with truancy.

Of the county kindergartners, 103 have not made through 20 episodes of the MimioSprout program because of absences.

One kindergartner has missed 59 days this school year, more than one-third of the instruction to date, he said.

Twenty-four students have missed more than 20 days, not including the 9 instructional days all students missed due to snow, and 42 have missed 10 or more.

Brown said students with truancy issues in elementary school are much more likely to be truant or drop-out of high school. With more than 100 kindergartners not attending school regularly, the board anticipates their continued truancy could be devastating to the system and the community if not corrected.

But using technology to transform instruction might make a huge different.

Mary Ann Foster, school technology coordinator, said one elementary school reported 100 percent attendance on the day they planned to film their portion of the county’s digital learning day video.

“Perfect attendance is astounding. It does not happen very often. Those kids wanted to be there because they were involved,” she said.

In addition to MimioSprout, Raleigh County Schools showed off what the face of education could look like once one-to-one computing is fully implemented.

Patty Morum, technology integration specialist, showed off an app for frog dissection, which could bring dissection back into the classroom in such a way that all students would have the chance to dissect their own frog without being grossed out.

“So many think iPads are the answer, but it is going to be how we function in the classroom,” said Brown.

Foster explained that the iPads need to be used for more than supplementing a textbook or for taking notes, they need to change the face of instruction.

Brown also noted that with iPads now in each teacher’s hands, the schools system has been discussing revamping their entire phone system.

“Every teacher’s iPad would be their phone. If a teacher is out of the classroom and the secretary needs to get a hold of them, they will be able to. In terms of safety, every teacher, wherever they are in the building, would be able to dial 911 if the need to do that. And once a 911 call goes out, it will notify other individuals in the county school system so we know how to respond,” he explained.

Victor Flanagan, chairman of the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce, said five years ago the chamber took interest in learning how the school system was set up and how the business community could have impact.

For the past three years, Raleigh County’s superintendent has been an active member of the chamber’s education committee.

Today several members of the board of education sit on the committee.

Flanagan read the chamber’s education mission statement; “We believe all children throughout Raleigh County deserve a world class education. The chamber feels that by aligning a rigorous and relative curriculum with improved standards and assessments that are based on college and career readiness, students can become productive citizens of Raleigh County.

“By expanding access to college course work and other accelerated learning opportunities, there will be increase productivity within the future Raleigh County workforce,” he continued.

He said the chamber believes these responsibilities must be shared by the school board and the community and the chamber supports the board, administration, teachers and students.

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