Two rural schools that are beating the odds
But because the 450-student rural district does have motivated teachers and strong leadership—with 46 certified staff and 37 support staff–it also has a robust technology program.
The district is one-to-one, with kindergartners through eighth graders having access to Macbook Pros during the school day, and high school students taking their devices home with them.
“We’ve given them the full set of tools for movie-making, podcasting, creating documents, and other software. If we don’t have it, and if it supports their learning, then it gets installed,” Kludt-Painter said.
“That empowers the students—knowing we’re there to support them in their learning. It’s a partnership; it’s not us saying, ‘No, you can’t,’” he added.
The district also offers robust internet access, and the small community is geographically close to the school and therefore can take advantage of that internet access.
If students don’t have home internet access, they are welcome to use the school’s internet at almost any time before or after school hours. A parks and recreation center is open on weekends and offers high-speed internet access.
“There’s lots of flexibility for sharing the network with students during those times, because that’s a concern of ours,” Kludt-Painter said. “The whole goal of the laptop program is to level the playing field.
Students frequently travel on local ferries, and those ferries are equipped with Wi-Fi hotspots so that rural students can study and complete homework.
The district funds its programs through local funding and partnerships, with an added boost from the federal eRate program. Enlisting community and stakeholder buy-in before and during the one-to-one implementation helped as well, Kludt-Painter said, because community support is essential when it comes to sustaining and funding projects such as this one.
The district uses Moodle for distance learning, as well as digital textbooks, which Kludt-Painter said enables high school students to participate in online learning. Many high school students take online courses through the Virtual High School, expanding their opportunities to take advanced and varied classes.
The district recently launched a coding class, and students have started learning how to use a 3D printer that the district purchased several weeks ago.
All high school students and most middle school students submit language arts assignments online through Criterion, an online proofing tool, and teachers return those assignments digitally as well in order to maintain a virtual paperless environment.
“From the time of middle school, students are fluent in online environments,” Kludt-Painter said. “Their classroom really is a classroom without walls. What’s really fascinating is talking with graduated senior who leave, and pursue trade school or four-year programs, and hearing about how well they say they are prepared in the online environment.”
“With the consistency of having educators who are here for the length of their careers, and also the freedom from the administration to do what’s best for the kids, that really lends itself to us being successful,” he said.
“The challenge, of course, is the wireless,” said Mike Saenz, a language arts and music history teacher at Falls Career High School, a non-traditional alternative high school in the Marble Falls Independent School District in Texas. “Infrastructure can be a challenge for small schools.”
The 4,000-student Marble Falls ISD operates four elementary schools, one middle school, and one traditional high school in addition to Falls Career High School.