Monday, April 14, 2014
Karaffa: Technology in our schools
By Supervisor David Karaffa
The desire for computers in the classrooms of the Augusta County Public School system is a significant discussion this budget season. The issue points are cost, maintenance, integration, and impact on our children’s education.
This school year (2013-2014), a pilot program was started in Stuart Middle School (SMS) with Apple MacBook Air laptops networked with Apple TVs mounted in the classroom. I had the opportunity to visit SMS, meet the students, speak with teachers, and see first hand how the technology has been integrated into their classrooms. What I witnessed was an overall positive in the classroom. However, let's review the topics of debate over this issue.
The Augusta County Board of Supervisors has agreed to fund the school system with $1 million per year for three years to implement a technology program in our public schools. This will involve the continuation of the technology in Stuart Middle School along with all of the other middle schools, and Fort Defiance High school next year. The second year will see the integration in all the high schools across the county. In the third year, elementary schools will be brought online with the computers. The $3 million is coming from the sale of Ladd Elementary school; therefore, it will not impact the taxpayers in the initial three-year roll out.
It's important to understand that it isn’t just the laptops that need upkeep, but also the wired/wireless system and other components that make the system work that will need upkeep and replacement as they age or become obsolete. Each school will have its challenges and the School Board will need to start planning and putting money away for replacement of these components in their budgets now in order to keep up. That would mean hundreds of thousands per year that needs to be put away. This will be a new expense.
In order for the technologies impact to be significant, teachers will need to be assisted and coached on how to use the technology in the classroom to enhance the learning experience for each student. As a county, we need to be able to see and measure the positive impact this technology is having. Most notably, through SOLs, SAT, and other current measures of student performance.
The debate points are as numerous as the opinions on whether technology in the classroom actually helps education. The argument has been made that a perfectly good education can still be had with a knowledgeable teacher and a chalkboard. However, it is too basic to be practically applied in today’s world and in our current public school system. It is important to face a few realities. Discipline, special needs students, and the constantly evolving digital world have a real affect on public school.
Other learning institutions are able to be picky about which children they accept and teach but public schools cannot. An individual computer for each student in the classroom allows for students to learn at their own pace. It enables a student who understands a subject material to accelerate ahead of the rest of the class and allows for other students who are still struggling to be given more guidance by the classroom teacher. I saw this in practice at Stuart Middle School during my visit. It is important to point out that since the computers have been put in place discipline issues have gone down, according to SMS’s principal.
Technology also aids in educating special needs students. Currently, Augusta County has over 700 special needs students. Some computer programs have been specially made to offer assistance to teachers who are educating these young people. They offer different avenues or approaches to these students' different needs.
Lastly, technology is here to stay, and as much exposure we can give young people to it as possible will help with their ability to assimilate into our digital culture. And while many of our young people do get an adequate exposure to this technology at home, it is not uniform or consistent. Having this technology in a controlled atmosphere will give that experience of uniformity and consistency along with accomplishing the task of enhancing our students' education and exposure to technology.
In my opinion, this technology should be cautiously embraced in our public school system. Computers shouldn’t just replace paper and pen and technology shouldn’t replace a teacher -- to do so would be inappropriate. We need to make sure that teachers are trained to use the technology to their fullest and that they are used to enhance our children’s education. That administration shouldn’t let the computers just sit in the corner of the classroom with their screens dark. The three-year roll out will allow for the teachers to be trained and administration to measure the usefulness of the technology before another group of our kids are exposed to it.
David Karaffa, 30, represents the Beverley Manor District of Augusta County on the Board of Supervisors. A registered nurse, he is the Director of Nursing at Stuarts Draft Christian Home. He and his wife, Katie, have three daughters. Supervisor Karaffa can be reached at DavidKaraffa@comcast.net or by contacting the government center in Verona at (540) 245-5600.