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Two rural schools that are beating the odds
Falls Career High School students check out laptops for use during the school day, and some laptops are loaned out if students live in particularly outlying areas or have special circumstances.
“We have wireless capability, but when the wireless breaks down we have to have a network drop,” said Peggy Little, principal at Falls Career High School. “It’s certainly not idea. We have 50 kids on laptops, but those 50 kids also have 50 cell phones. While we have enough infrastructure to support the laptops, that doesn’t account for the Kindles, iPads, and smartphones.”
But though wireless is sometimes a challenge even in the school, teachers and students are determined to make it work. Some teachers come in early and other stay late with students who need to use their laptops or take advantage of the internet during non-school hours. High school libraries have extended hours and are open until 8 p.m. four days a week.
The rural district is currently in the middle of raising its community’s awareness about the need for technology funding, as a vote around that issue is scheduled for May 2014.
“We want to get the message out that this is vital, and it’s important that you support your kids in this rural community,” Little said. “These are your neighbors and this is your town. These are the future contributors to your community, and we need them to be contributors with 21st century knowledge.”
Some community members might hesitate to put money into technology programs due to technology’s fast-evolving nature, claiming devices will be obsolete in five years, but the bigger issue is being able to support rural technology.
“We have to continue to improve the technology program, but the infrastructure is the biggest issue,” said Susan Maughan, the district’s executive director of special services. “The smaller devices, we can manage. It’s having the power to keep it going and running that’s most important, and that is not going to obsolete in five years.”
Transportation is another challenge for rural Marble Falls, which encompasses 268 square miles. Due to the district’s vast size, some students take public transportation to their designated school bus pick-up area and are often out the door before 6 a.m. Those students often take advantage of extended school hours to complete their work before the lengthy trip home.
Using Odysseyware, the district’s online curriculum provider, some students with special scheduling circumstances—those with extended traveling times due to a rural location, parents without reliable childcare, or those who work 40 hours a week–are able to keep up with their courses online and stay on track to graduate.
“We look outside the box,” said Maughan. “We think about what’s best for the kids. If you have a staff working that way together, it’s a definite benefit for our students.”