Tech grant impacts ripple through districts

Two years ago, the Grays Harbor Community Foundation awarded grants to five Harbor school districts to fund technological needs in the classroom, and those districts are just beginning to see the powerful impact of that technology initiative.

Last week, officials from the five districts — Cosmopolis, Hoquiam, McCleary, Montesano and Ocosta — gathered at Aberdeen’s Rotary Log Pavilion to compare notes. Their final reports have been “very encouraging,” said Jim Daly, the Community Foundation’s executive director, who added that the grant is one of the larger grants the foundation has ever offered.

The five districts were awarded the grants, which totaled $130,000, in May 2012 after being selected from a pool of other applications from local districts. Their selection was based on letters of intent submitted to the organization. The districts have used the funds to upgrade technology, helping to buy electronic devices like iPads, mini iPads and Apple TV for in-class instruction. They say the new technology has been useful in helping to narrow the achievement gap often seen between areas of high poverty and those with more financial means.

Stephanie Klinger, principal of Simpson Elementary, said that with the introduction of the new technology they found that many of their students were even less familiar with technology — like the iPads they were able to purchase — than they had assumed they would be. The sentiment was echoed in many of the other districts’ presentations.

“It is wonderful to level the playing field,” said Klinger, of the electronics. She said the district had tried to get a few grants prior to receiving the one from the Community Foundation, but they were unsuccessful. They decided to use the funds to transform their library into a media center, with more than two dozen iPads available. They devised a check-out system to make it as “equitable and fair” as possible, and said that since the introduction they have seen a positive increase in their state test scores, even for low-income students.

“The goal is to close the gap, and we got a little closer,” she said.

The voices of technology directors, superintendents, principals and teachers from the five districts were resoundingly positive as they outlined what they have been able to do with the funds over the past two years. Not only has it improved student scores and helped them to meet state standards more quickly, but it has provided a necessary alternative way to communicate and learn for students with special needs.

“When a (child with special needs) can show you, ‘I know what the word means’ … That’s huge,” said Antha Holt, the technology director and a music teacher for the McCleary School District.

Ocosta Superintendent Dr. Paula Akerlund said the change within the district, which has a high percentage of students that qualify for aid and which has undergone many recent budget cuts, has been immeasurable.

“I don’t know if you really know how important this is to us … and the value of what it means to us,” she said.

She said the addition of electronic tablets is especially beneficial for the low-income Hispanic population within the district.

“We hadn’t realized how restricted they were,” she said, adding many had no experience whatsoever with new technology like iPads.

Chris Cady, a fifth-grade teacher at Cosmopolis Elementary, said his students are “retaining information more than they ever had,” and “meeting standards quicker” than they had prior to the arrival of the school’s one-to-one ratio of iPads for students in grades 2 through 6 due to the grant.

It is quite a change from when he first started seven years ago, he said, when the largest issue of technological concern was “all about getting land-lines in classrooms.”

He shared a how he recently was able to peak his classroom’s interest in their study of blues and gospel music by showing videos of musicians, including Ray Charles singing the National Anthem at the World Series game after 9/11.

“They went from being bored to saying, ‘I want to know more about this, let’s find more,’ ” he said.

Hoquiam School District Assistant Superintendent Shannon Webster said the district’s introduction of more than 700 iPads has been especially successful in the district’s science classrooms. There, students use electronic probes, also purchased with the grant funds, and switch easily between their textbooks and technology. She said they are slowly working at moving toward a one-to-one ratio for the entire school for the tablets, because they “aren’t very shareable devices.”

The sheer amount of iPads has been somewhat overwhelming for the districts, she said, since they do not have anyone to manage them. But, their inclusion has helped to cause a decline in apathy and lack of student engagement that she “wrestled” with for many years, since she started teaching on Grays Harbor in 1992.

The schools all said they hope to include even more technology as opportunities present themselves and, as was a necessary part of their grant application, are continuously working and planning for the future in terms of replacing and updating their new technology by rigourous budget planning.

Daly said, as of Friday, the foundation had begun to discuss the possibility that it will host another technology initiative that would be open to these schools as well as others.

A video documenting how the technology has been used effectively in each of the five districts was shown Thursday night and will soon be available for public viewing on the foundation’s website at www.gh-cf.org.

Sam Luvisi: 360-537-3935 or sluvisi@thedailyworld.com and @Dw_Sluvisi on Twitter.


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