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Sharp Middle School's One-on-One give kids a competitive edge

When Sharp Middle School students walked into the building in August, each one had a computer with his or her name on it. While that isn’t exactly the case, it is the feeling that they have now as they all have computers that are assigned to them and that they can carry to each class. The One-on-One Program, as it is commonly called, or the Blended Learning Program, as the district’s Chief Information Officer Craig Smith prefers, has been brought into several school districts over the past several years, but the idea has taken time to catch on here in Pendleton County.
        Cindy Cummins, principal of Sharp Middle School, explains the delay. While SMS has had a good stash of computers for many years, the number of laptops did not match the number of students in the building; however, as work stations died, the Technology Resource Teacher, Megan Ramsey, and the lab manager Denise Hisel, along with the tech committee began replacing those worn out work stations primarily with laptops. When Amanda King came on as the school media specialist in 2018, they did a count of laptops in the building, and they realized how close they were to possibly becoming a one-on-one school. King had had an opportunity to observe Bracken County Schools, and she had seen the students handled them well with little breakage. King also attended sessions on One-on-One at KySTE, the technology annual tech conference for school administration and staff. The information she and the other technology staff gathered during their research period was enough to convince the administration that it was worth doing. At that point, the push to do one-on-one was on.
        King’s main concern with launching this year was the fact that Cummins was a newly-hired principal, and the program is rather massive.
        “We were planning to hand out some 540 computers to students,” she explained, “and the teachers would have to be trained. We approached her with our plan and with the idea that it could be pushed back a year so that she would have time to adjust and acclimate, but she wouldn’t have it. She wanted to launch.”
        For Cummins, the reasons to go ahead were considerable.
        “We don’t use many textbooks, but teachers can scan and upload text in the computer so they can read it. It is more intentional and focused, and in turn, it increases the literacy rates of our students.”
        She also considered the individual needs. “Each kid having a device puts them all on a level playing field,” explains Cummins. That was something that couldn’t be achieved with the Bring Your Own Device policy that was set up several years ago because not every student had a device to bring, and even if they did, the device usually was not compatible with classroom teaching, according to Ramsey.
        She also saw time-management benefits. “Computer lab sign-ins were a problem for time management. You had movement from the room to the lab; you had to wait for the computer to sign in; you worked, and then you had to sign out early to get back to the class. You lost a lot of time using technology, but the kids need to use it.”
        On the other hand, the Lenovos and Chromebooks, the brands of the laptops that are in the building, help students and teachers achieve instructional goals while remaining in the assigned classroom. Students are logged in from the beginning of the day, and neither teachers nor students  have to worry about the computer wasting a lot of instructional time; so far, both teachers and students are pleased with the results.
        At launch, the students were trained on proper technological use and care for the computers. Each student and parents or guardians were also handed a contract outlining the expectations for the use of the computer. They also clarified that students would be on a “Big Brother”scenario--that all use would be monitored to prevent abuse of the network. Student safety is first and foremost with the use of any technology.
        Safety is even more important now that all students are expected to use technology so often.
        “We use them every day,” says Ramsey, the eighth-grade social studies teacher. “I do bell work and WebQuests; I scan documents so they can read them in Word, and those articles have questions that they can answer right there; I can share links with them that have content games, and we can do projects online.
        “And if a kid isn’t allowed access or if someone is absent, we have hard copies for those situations.”
        The computers do not go home with the students.
        STEM teacher Kristen Branch sees other benefits.
        “I have used computers, anyway, but this new format keeps the students engaged. They have their routine, and since things such as bell ringers are on their computer, they can get right into it. They settle in right away. No kids are needing to find pencils or paper. The classroom is more organized than it was before.
        “What they do is closely monitored at the central office, so we have few issues with anyone abusing the system.”
        Laura Spradlin, eighth-grade science teacher, has noticed still another advantage. “Students can work at their own pace, and it allows me to give them more complex text so that they have to dig for the info. It isn’t just right there in front of them. They have to work. And they want to dig.
        “Sometimes students ask questions about topics I hadn’t planned to cover. I can tell them to look it up. They get to initiate inquiry, and they can learn what is interesting to them.”
        Students are hooked, too. They see similar advantages from their sides of the desks.
        Eighth-grader Alex B. likes the ability to organize. “It’s easier to keep track of things. It’s all there, already organized for you.”
        Jaelynn C., also in the eighth grade, remembers the days of lost papers. “You can’t lose your stuff. Teachers can’t, either.”
        They also recognize that their time management skills have improved. Alex confirms that he uses down-time more efficiently. “If I get finished with my work in one class, I can pull up my work from another class to finish. I don’t have as much homework now. I can get more things accomplished.”
        Katie W. likes the fact that she can revise and edit as she goes because she has a computer available. She doesn’t have to use paper and pencils to write drafts before she puts them into a computer in a computer lab.
        How do her parents feel about the new system? “My parents think it will be a lot easier,” Katie says. They think it will help me with my learning and especially my spelling because the computer tells me that I may have misspelled something.”
        The new sixth-grade class cannot compare their experiences with another year in the middle school, but they can see the benefits they have compared to their elementary experiences. Hannah C. is happy that she has the ability to keep up with her grades in Infinite Campus, something they could not do in the elementary school just because of the way grades are posted there. Now, she knows she has to keep up with how she is doing, and she can do that on her own. It gives her a sense of responsibility she has not had previously.
        Addie M. adds another perspective. She gets to change her background. “I put horses on my background,” she says. While this may seem trivial to some, this fact allows her to feel ownership and to accept the responsibility of carrying around a computer that is assigned to her all day.
        Blended learning was instituted because it is beneficial to the students, but teachers are just as enthused about its benefits to them. They were trained over the summer to use the system. No new software was purchased. They are now using to a greater capacity the Microsoft software that they already had. Not only were they trained to use it for their students, but they also use it to connect to each other.
        Spradlin says, “Our school uses the teams model now. That makes it harder to communicate with each other, but with the Teams software, we up the communication level.  I don’t feel like I am working in a building with strangers.”
        Cummins explains that important teacher contact can be sent through Teams, and no only is she assured that everyone gets a copy—that no papers are lost—but she can also see who has read and responded, making two-way communication more efficient while holding everyone, including herself, accountable for what is communicated.
        Branch appreciates the time Teams saves her. “This cuts my planning time. I don’t have to make a lot of copies. I load it and submit it all at the end of the week. It is ready to go.”
        While the teachers and students are enthusiastic about the new teaching format, administration realizes that a lot of preparation had to go into the program to make it launch efficiently.
        Changes can send teachers and students alike into a spiral of panic, but Cummins is proud to say that the teachers at Sharp have adapted well, and so have the students.
        “I’m surprised and happy with how things have gone, and I’m impressed with how the staff has jumped in—even the more reluctant staff members. We have seen that Teams has saved time, copies, and frustration, and, better still, the kids are following expectations.”
        Overall, the new technological opportunities have enhanced the learning curve at SMS.
        “Online learning as we are doing is similar to what students will encounters in college and in dual-credit courses, and even in life beyond school.”
        But Cummins is realistic about its limitations. “The tech is a supplement, another resource for students and teachers, but nothing will ever replace good instruction and good teachers.”