The Orono Independent School District approved revoking the existing capital projects levy authorization and approved a new authorization during their Aug. 19 meeting. The levy would increase funding from $1 million to approximately $2 million to be used for technology and textbooks.
Over the past 20 years, the district has seen changes in technology for staff, teachers and students. Current Technology Integration Coordinator Penny Pease has worn many hats throughout her 28 years with the district. She’s currently working to maintain the district’s technology infrastructure and to provide all students with the same technological opportunities.
Director of Learning and Accountability Aaron Ruhland works with Pease, educates staff on the programs and works to bring more technology options into the district.
“I think technology has become ubiquitous now. People understand in order for us to do our work well and for students to be ready for college and careers they have to be adept in using technology tools,” he said. “I think more so than ever we’re leveraging technology to do our work more efficiently, to improve student achievement and to ensure our teachers have what they need to prepare out students for the future.”
One change the district has implemented is bringing devices into the classroom through their Orono PLUS program. According to Pease, students in kindergarten through fifth grade have devices readily available for their use in the classroom. Students in sixth through 12th grade can use a Chromebook provided by the district or bring in their own device.
This one-to-one program gives every student access to a device at school and at home. The district also provides WiFi hotspots to families who do not have internet access at home.
“We partner with Kajeet. We purchased an amount of bandwidth and little pucks, as I like to call them. We work mostly with secondary students because those are devices that go home. [We] work with various programs and social workers who work with those kids and families. When they identify those needs we check out a device for them. It’s important that they have access outside of the school day,” Pease said.
Ruhland adds that the district also has specific staff who are resources for students looking to check out a device in order to have no learning barriers. Without access to the programs the district uses and the internet, students would not have been given the same learning opportunities, therefore the district takes an individualized approach to meet families needs.
Programs including Schoology, Google Suite for Education and Flipgrid are utilized. Schoology is a learning management system that allows students, parents and teachers to communicate beyond the classroom. The program allows teachers to communicate with students about assignments, provide them with online textbooks and other course material.
“Parents also have access to that. They can see an overview of what their child is doing. A parent can’t drill down and see the assignments, but they can see that there is an assignment...It enhances communication between teachers, students and parents. We put together a plan last summer to make sure teachers were trained,” Pease said.
Google Suite and Flipgrid are also programs that not only teaches students how to use various computer programs but allow teachers to gather feedback in a different environment as well as provide input on assignments almost instantly.
Integrating various programs available to parents and students has allowed for faster communication. According to Ruhland, the days where a single sheet newsletter sent out once a month with information are in the past; however, that doesn’t eliminate traditional learning and teaching practices.
Students are still given paper textbooks and still take notes with paper and pencil. Pease adds that the technology in place is not there to replace all paper materials but to give more flexibility and options to students and teachers.
“There was a big push to go paperless for awhile. I do believe we’ve been able to reduce paper use. This is one of the things we work with teachers on a lot. Sometimes using paper and pencil is the right tool. We need to be able to do that. As kids get older, I always encourage teachers to make sure students have options,” she said.
Over the past 20 years, integrating traditional and modern teaching and learning practices has kept the district on board with continuing to upgrade not only devices students and teachers are using but the foundation and wireless infrastructure they require.
Last summer, the district added a second internet line for backup and while there are no current plans for the capital projects levy funds, maintaining their wireless infrastructure, network security and building security is an integral part of maintaining their support and efficiency according to Ruhland.
“We feel like we’re on the right path. We feel like we’re doing the right things. We’re leveraging technology to improve teaching and learning and to improve student achievement. That will continue to be the emphasis for any plan moving forward,” he said.
One way the district is moving forward is offering coding classes and advance computer science classes where students have the possibility to earn college credit towards their future career. According to Ruhland, the district plans to continue to offer advanced technology courses and engineering courses in order to prepare students for their future as well as continue to integrate textbooks with corresponding online text. “A lot of what we do is about personalizing for students in a way that allows them to best learn. We have options to do that,” Pease said.