BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN HIGH POVERTY SCHOOLS

08/24/2015
TECHNOLOGY
By Tiffany Anderson

Resources in high poverty schools are often limited and are a reason why many schools struggle with improving achievement. However, if the current technology available is leveraged properly and fully utilized, expanded resources would become immediately available. The following are ways to impact the achievement gap by closing the technology and opportunity gap. In addition to strategies, practical examples are listed that have been used in an effort to bridge the digital divide, which can be replicated in any district. Jennings School district is 98 percent minority and serves 100 percent free lunch. Jennings borders Ferguson in St. Louis, Missouri and serves approximately 3,000 students in grades PreK-12.

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  1. Bridging the Digital Divide Begins with a Strong Vision and Commitment from Leadership
    In Jennings, as superintendent, I view myself as a teacher and remain committed to increasing resources for teachers and students. The commitment requires less central office staff in exchange for increased classroom resources. It requires serving in multiple roles while a superintendent, which includes serving as the district curriculum coordinator, public relations facilitator, acting as a (PAT) parents as teacher educator, a crossing guard and at times a supporting classroom teacher, just to name a few of the roles. The commitment from all levels of leadership is that resources will not be a reason for lack of achievement. In 2015, under the White House’s Future Ready initiative, I signed the Future Ready Pledge to bridge the digital divide. As part of signing the pledge, a team from our district attended the Future Ready Summit and we were struck at the lack of diversity and representation of high poverty rural or urban schools at the Summit, which was being held in a diverse city serving many underrepresented groups. The commitment to improve services to the under served community begins with the commitment to ensuring students are Future Ready and being willing to creatively use resources to make that happen.
  2. Maximizing Use
    of Free Technology Resources
    While a superintendent many years ago in Montgomery County in Virginia, we launched online learning systems using Moodle to allow students to use curriculum materials online. Now in 2015, we have Google classrooms, the expanded use of the Internet, Skype, and books online.  There are multiple learning management systems that will allow schools to place the curriculum online and to enable schools to share information. In Jennings, using technology through Google has been instrumental as a simple, free, practical strategy, since I coordinate curriculum and monitor pacing across the district. As teachers create lessons, they save lessons on a Google drive and share it with staff across the district, enabling vertical and horizontal planning to immediately occur across the district.  This also allows us to save lessons for an entire year online and as I visit classrooms, I am able to monitor and observe lessons. When new teachers begin, through Google classroom, they have the ability to review lesson plans for the year before they ever begin in the classroom. It is a powerful tool that helps teachers better prepare for their first day, it allows teachers to share lessons across the district and it enables school leaders to monitor lesson planning and instruction as they observe in classrooms.
  3. Increasing Access
    and Exposure to Students
    High poverty students often begin school behind academically with limited exposure compared to other students who are not in poverty. As a result of exposure and access, often the average high poverty student may start school with a limited vocabulary and with less academic knowledge in various content areas. High poverty students often are asked to make a high jump without the same running start of students who are not in high poverty homes. The bridge that can serve as a greater equalizer is technology. In under performing high poverty schools, the use of technology is limited and in some cases non-existent. In a standards based setting, there are many resources that should be used to master standards. Most textual materials, novels and even math activities and quizzes are online and can be accessed for limited cost and many can be accessed for free. Kahn Academy (KG) is one example of a free resource we have used for many years that provides entire lessons from an online teacher. It provides quizzes and can easily be integrated in any classroom. Most publishers have free textual materials online that can be purchased for the district. Often when asked, those resources accompany the textbook when it’s purchased and as a result, most schools could use digital devices at schools and allow students to take books home when they don’t have home online access or they can use a combination of both.

As an example of what this
looks like across the district:

Recently, a KG, first grade and second grade teacher paired up after the kindergarten teacher completed a science unit that culminated in hatching chicks in an incubator. Using Google classroom, kindergarten teacher Mrs. Michaelson videotaped her own introductory message regarding a mystery scavenger hunt activity involving the science topics they covered recently.  Kindergarten students watched videos, followed clues, read and wrote about their findings in an effort to solve a mystery of a missing object in their classroom. Ultimately, administrators and other teachers across the school and district became involved in the mystery hunt through Google classroom by giving clues and writing to students.

In a first grade room in a school with 100 percent free lunch, a first grade teacher, Mrs. Olson, required students to take tablets on an art field trip to video experiences, which they later wrote about and created video presentations to demonstrate what they have learned. Performance based learning is truly coming to life in her classroom and it is allowing students to express themselves in ways they would not normally. Imagine the possibilities in middle school and in high school.

In a middle school classroom, a teacher, Mrs. Foster uses Chrome Books daily and students write stories, submit them through a shared Google drive allowing the teacher to give immediate feedback on their writing assignments. Students converse through the drive about academic assignments immediately and the classroom has moved to a paperless environment with expedited feedback. Student engagement and the quality of work is incredibly high. Imagine the possibilities.

In a high school classroom, science teacher Remy Bryant teaches biomedical science using the Project Lead the Way learning management system allowing students to use the most updated resources and research on scientific topics they are learning.  

In all schools across the district, teachers use a data dashboard system to input assessments, which are automatically graded when they are scanned and uploaded and it allows for immediate reflection and review of standards mastered based on assessments. The immediate information allows teachers to begin re-teaching immediately.

The examples provided are just a few possibilities of how technology can be integrated despite resources available when there is a commitment to improve and use technology to increase exposure, access and opportunities. Increasing access and opportunities by providing students with the greatest amount of exposure is essential in the effort to close the digital gap and ultimately improve achievement in high poverty settings. Closing the digital divide begins with leadership that sets a vision and commits to ensuring classrooms have what’s needed to make the vision become a reality. Once resources are provided, accountability measures must be implemented to ensure the resources provided are properly used in meaningful ways.

Technology has become another way to improve the quality of education for all children. While districts may face the challenge of connectivity in homes, which the Jennings School District also faces, all districts serving underserved communities can bridge the digital divide in classrooms at school. This ultimately creates a bridge between students in wealth and in high poverty schools.

Tiffany Anderson, Ed.D. is the Superintendent in Jennings, Missouri.
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