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Technology broadens students’ learning opportunities at South Johnston High School

SJHS students work in the school's Microsoft IT Academy Lab.

South Johnston High School in North Carolina’s Johnston County Schools recently started a one-to-one laptop program for freshmen, which has extended their learning beyond the traditional school day, and has overcome the challenge of an older building to deliver wireless internet access throughout the school.

Students are taking more Advanced Placement classes online, taking advantage of opportunities that didn’t exist before—and school leaders have saved money by moving to online assessments.

For these reasons and others, we’ve chosen South Johnston High School as our “eSchool of the Month” for March. Here, school technology facilitator Bennett Jones describes some of the school’s ed-tech accomplishments and its keys to success.

(Editor’s note: To nominate your school or district for our “eSchool of the Month” feature, and to read about past winners, click here.)

How do you use technology to advance student learning?

This year, we implemented our Freshman Academy, a one-to-one laptop initiative where we distributed laptops to our more than 300 freshmen. We also have gone completely wireless, allowing our freshmen to use the laptops throughout the campus and to be able to use them at home, where many of our students do not have computers. Furthermore, we have purchased and installed 13 SMART Boards, bringing our total in the school to 19. Finally, we have been able to purchase 25 iPads to create a lab where students and teachers can use apps and other programs to enhance learning, especially for our exceptional children’s department.

Have you noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation as a result?

Absolutely. Our school is relatively old (built in 1969), and up until just a couple of years ago, there was barely a working computer in each classroom. Now, as a result of our dedication to technology and electronic instruction, our student morale and performance have increased. In fact, we were the only high school in our district to be named a North Carolina School of Distinction by achieving high growth, and test scores in all but one area increased last year. Our dropout rate is down, and we had more than a 100-percent growth in the number of students taking online courses.

How do you use technology to streamline school administration and aid in decision-making?

We use GoogleDocs for record keeping in teacher learning communities and during our intervention period that we have every day. All of our administrators are equipped with iPads to assist in quick fact-checking and to use the online observation system. Our teachers are receiving laptops for use during faculty meetings, which will enable them to enter input in GoogleDocs in real time to share ideas and make comments. Finally, we have been able to create videos using Discovery Education streaming and Windows Movie Maker to share with our middle schools and other departments in the district.

Have you realized an increase in efficiency, a savings in administrative costs, or some other tangible benefits as a result of this technology use?

We were the only high school in our district to be recognized as a School of Distinction by earning high growth. We had more Advanced Placement (AP) students than ever this past year as a result of the online AP courses offered through North Carolina Virtual Public School. Through this technology-enabled instruction, our students were able to take courses that we simply could not offer at our school because of staffing and cost restraints. This was made possible by the restructuring of an older computer lab into an online class learning center. We have also saved thousands of dollars in paper and copying costs by posting announcements on a shared server and via closed-circuit television throughout the campus. Finally, we have saved money by being able to offer online tests and examinations rather than spending on paper and printing materials.

How have you financed your ed-tech initiatives?

Our administration, and especially our principal Eddie Price, has been very aggressive in trying to obtain as much funding as possible for our school. For example, he has secured grants from local companies and from civic groups like the Golden Leaf Foundation, which has provided funds specifically for technology use. Additionally, our principal has been able to acquire local funds from our school district and has written numerous grants from charitable organization such as the United Way, which have helped us to be able to purchase technology equipment at a fractional cost—including laptops, desktops, and monitors.

What ed-tech initiative are you most proud of, and why?

The implementation of the one-to-one laptop initiative for the Freshman Academy is one of our biggest accomplishments. It has had significant obstacles to overcome—including compatibility issues, collection and distribution procedures, software and firewall issues, and implementing new methods of instruction for our teachers. However, now it is proving to be extremely rewarding for our students, who are excited about learning and using this technology not only in class, but to research and work outside of the classroom setting as well.

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges? How have you overcome these?

The biggest challenges have focused around integrating the technology into an old school building that was not designed or built for computers and the associated wiring. We have had to install access points seemingly in every room across the campus to have complete coverage for wireless devices. We still have problems with our school server not being fast enough to handle all of the data being transmitted on it. And finally, getting teachers—who in some cases are not very tech-savvy—to use all of the new and exciting resources that are now available to them has been a challenge. We have overcome these challenges by having a great support system from the central office and technology services department and by having frequent Professional Learning Community meetings. We also hold staff development training sessions where teachers can share best practices and teaching methods that use our available technologies.

What’s your best ed-tech advice for your colleagues?

To try, try, and try. Most who are skeptical about the advancements in technology and all of the useful ways it can be used in today’s classroom might simply refuse to step outside of their comfort zone and try a new method of teaching a concept. What I have found is that if teachers will simply experiment and try the new software, or the new equipment, they will find that not only can their jobs become easier, but more exciting as well. That can create a wonderful new classroom experience for their students to learn the material presented.

I also have a wonderful principal who is fully aware of and completely supports the role of technology in the schools, and advocates for the creation of an atmosphere where we can teach our students to not only be a part of the 21st century, but to thrive in the ever-changing world.

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