Alcoa City Schools Foundation draws students to the board through technology

Math teacher Horace Stephens uses the White Board during class at Alcoa High School.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Math teacher Horace Stephens uses the White Board during class at Alcoa High School.

Getting called up to the blackboard doesn’t mean the same to Alcoa City School students as it did for their parents. The boards are not black or even green. They are white, high-tech and interactive.

Alcoa City Schools have a variety of interactive boards -- Smart Boards, Promethean Boards and Whiteboards -- in their classrooms, and, thanks in part to the Alcoa City Schools Foundation, they are exposing Alcoa students to today’s high-tech teaching environment. The foundation, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend, either helped fund the equipment used with these boards or purchased the boards themselves with Foundation funds.

Foundation chair Sharon Hannum said that with the increased use of the Internet, the need for more high-tech, interactive equipment in the classroom has been elevated.

“Kids today relate better to interactive kinds of teaching. Teachers can, in real time, bring up information and show it to classes and be more interactive between teachers and students,” she said.

Hannum said that in 1997, the foundation funded a Smart Board, projector and computer. “We granted $15,000 toward those items. As teachers began to see and use Smart Boards, they all wanted them. We could only afford a certain number of them. Each grant cycle, we had more teachers wanting more,” she said. “After making two rounds of grants for teachers at the high school, we decided it was time to take a different approach. The Foundation launched an internal campaign and got a grant from Denso that enabled us to put money into technology. We were able to purchase Smart Boards and projectors in all the schools.”

Hannum said the system went from having a few to having the boards in all the Alcoa schools.

“It was awesome. As teachers saw other teachers use them, everybody else got excited and everyone wanted one,” she said. “We were able to get that done, were able to generate interest and get corporate sponsors to fund a technology grant to put them in the classrooms. What some systems have been chasing for awhile, we’ve had for awhile. We are leading the charge.”

Mike Delozier at Alcoa Middle School said the interactive boards integrate the projectors and video by simply touching the board. The board also saves information. “If you have multiple classes doing the same thing, what you write can be saved and brought back for the next class,” he said. “It’s a time-saver and great for teachers to be able to move from one technology to the other. Everything is integrated into one system.”

Debbie West is the technology coordinator at Alcoa Elementary School and the broadcast coordinator for Channel 3 throughout the Alcoa City School System.

West said even just the projector that is used with the interactive boards help because they can project images off a computer screen.

“Put that together with Whiteboard, and it makes it so kids can touch the Whiteboard and make things happen,” she said. “They can answer questions and make selections. It’s interactive, and the kids get engaged and get to participate. It becomes more student-run.”

“We have them because of the Foundation,” said West. “It is something that we hope teachers will be encouraged to request more of. We have two in our intermediate wing, and the teachers share them,” she said.

West said there are Smart Boards and Promethean Boards at the middle school and Promethean Boards at the high school.

Lisa Berry, director of technology for the Alcoa City School System, said the foundation started the technology initiative to put interactive boards in the classrooms for the teachers. “I don’t know how many they have put in our schools, but they did at least two at the elementary, four or five at the middle school, and it really opened the other teachers’ eyes as to how much that technology is going to help,” she said.

Berry said it got to the point where every time the foundation gave teachers an opportunity to apply for grants, the teachers were asking for the boards and projectors. “They began discussions with the technology department to do this for the whole school system.”

The technology engages children and pulls them in. “They come from technology-rich environments with computers and video games at home. We need other bells and whistles when we get them in the classroom,” Berry said. “That’s one thing the Whiteboard technology provides -- it makes them get involved. They have to touch, move and manipulate the board. So many of our kids need that.”

West said interactive boards aren’t the only technology the foundation has provided the students. The foundation also provided a Pro-Scope for the elementary school.

“It is basically is a telescope that works on the computer and that has been very helpful with teaching science,” said West.

The Pro-Scope brings even the projectors to life.

“It’s a nice piece of equipment that does several things.,” said West, “It even does videos. Your third and fourth grades have used that.”

Another technology investment the Alcoa City Schools Foundation has provided is Jeopardy game software. “The Jeopardy game is a fun way of reviewing things or a fun way of learning things. Kids like to compete. It also is the type of technology that keeps all the children engaged in thinking and doing and learning even while other kids are answering questions,” West said. “They’re having their answers ready so they’re not sitting there not thinking.”

West said the foundation also picked up the cost for digital cameras for teachers to use at the elementary school, and the cameras were one way of getting teachers more interested in learning about new technology. “Kids like pictures, and the teachers use the cameras to do a lot of bragging on the children recognized as Stars of the Week. That gives them a visual that kids like,” West said. “Now those cameras are outdated, but having them got teachers interested, so many now have their own. The teachers have become more technology-savvy through what the Foundation helped provide to the classrooms.”

On Friday, Sept. 18, the Alcoa City School’s Foundation will celebrate their 20 years of supporting education with celebrations that begin at 5 p.m. at the Alcoa Middle School gymnasium. Highlighted will be some of the programs that would not have been possible without funding from the Alcoa City Schools Foundation.

The celebration will also include live music, a band performance, art and photography displays and highlights from other projects funded by the foundation. Two teachers will receive Innovative Teacher Awards for initiating projects that stress innovation, creativity, community involvement and academic cooperation.

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