Elizabeth Forward schools emphasize technology

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

Digital technology is in the forefront as Elizabeth Forward School District begins a new year of classes on Sept. 5.

The district will offer its 2,352 students a high-tech “One-to-One Learning Initiative.”

Each student in kindergarten through second grade will receive an iPad Mini, while Apple iPads will be distributed to all students in grades 3-12.

“We're changing the culture of our district,” Superintendent Bart Rocco said after EF's school board approved a leasing agreement with Apple on June 19.

The district will pay no more than $550,000 for annual leases of the devices.

“It is a new way to approach education and learning,” Rocco said at the Aug. 21 board meeting. “It will be a unique sharing and learning experience for both (teachers and students).”

“It is an opportunity for the teachers to choose certain apps,” assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin noted.

The change in culture was reflected in another development announced on Friday. The League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition convened by the independent nonprofit Digital Promise, said Elizabeth Forward is one of eight new members.

The league is authorized by Congress to advance breakthrough technologies for the improvement of education. Other new member districts include Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina, Enlarged City in Middletown, N.Y., Kent in Washington, Riverside Unified and San Jose Unified in California, Springfield in New Jersey and West Warwick in Rhode Island.

“By sharing their leadership, challenges, and breakthroughs, these eight exemplar districts will help educators across the country tackle the difficult work of improving the opportunity to learn for the nation's students,” Digital Promise CEO Karen Cator said.

The new districts bring the coalition's size to 40 districts and agencies in 24 states, representing nearly 3 million students. Elizabeth Forward and the other districts will be welcomed into the coalition's fold at a conference Oct. 23-25 in Michigan.

That will be after iPads are distributed to Elizabeth Forward students, beginning with the high school during the week of Oct. 7.

Students in Elizabeth Forward Middle School will get their iPads the following week, then during the week of Oct. 21 distribution will happen at Central, Greenock, Mt. Vernon and William Penn elementary schools.

Details about the distribution will be sent home to parents after the first day of school.

Parents will have a chance to participate in open houses, beginning with kindergartens in the four elementary schools on Sept. 3 at 6 p.m.

Open houses are slated on Sept. 10 from 6-8 p.m. for the high school, on Sept. 11 from 6-8 p.m. for the middle school and on Sept. 12 from 6-8 p.m. for grades 1-5 at the elementary schools.

Open house days will mean early dismissals, for the high school on Sept. 10 at 12:20 p.m., for the middle school on Sept. 11 at 12:59 p.m. and for the elementary schools on Sept. 12 at 1:30 p.m.

At the high school, the YOUmedia Center continues to offer a wide array of programs. The center encompasses a renovated school library and includes a cafe, separate studios for video and audio recording, a small performance space and banks of laptop and desktop computers.

Meanwhile, students can continue to create game applications in EF's Entertainment Technology Academy. A prototype lab in the Arts and Industrial Technology area of the high school will give students the opportunity to use a laser cutter and three-dimensional printers.

This is the first full year for implementation of a high school-wide positive behavior support program coordinated by D.T. Watson Institute.

In the 2012-13 school year the Don Eichhorn Schools to Watch Committee recognized EF for having one of the top 33 middle schools in Pennsylvania.

The major initiative at the middle school in 2013-14 is a “Dream Factory” that brings together computer science, industrial technologies and the art curriculum for students in grades 6, 7 and 8.

The middle school staff will continue to develop applications for the SMALLab or Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Lab.

And it is the third year for middle school participation, as well as that of the four elementary schools, in the OLWEUS anti-bullying program.

In the elementary schools there will be “mini embodied learning” tools based on the Kinect gaming system. The aim is to give students a chance to learn material using their entire bodies.

Other concepts in the elementary school include the conversion of a classroom into a “Math Café” at Mt. Vernon.

Across the district, the staff continues to review and revise the K-12 curriculum to bring it in line with state “common core” standards that are to be fully implemented in 2015-16.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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