Technology in schools on display

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 21, 2011

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Kristy Wood remembers when high-tech meant having a TRS-80 Color Computer from Radio Shack.
Saturday, Wood joined hundreds of other parents at the Rowan-Salisbury Schools technology showcase to marvel at the computers and tools now available to students.
“It’s overwhelming, really, compared to what we grew up with,” Wood said.
Video cameras, iPods, iPads, laptops, biotechnology instruments and more filled classrooms at North Rowan High School.
Wood watched as her son Michael, a seventh-grader at North Rowan Middle School, used a laptop to complete complex math problems she didn’t tackle until 10th grade.
Between the students and staff who put on the showcase and the parents, teachers and elected officials who visited, close to 1,000 people participated in the inaugural event, “Technology Matters: What’s Right with Public Education.”
“I am thrilled and overwhelmed by the response,” Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said. “I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, what if no one comes after all this work.”
Carl Ford, vice chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, called the turnout “unbelieveable.”
“It means everybody wants to see what’s going on,” Ford said.
Each of the system’s 35 schools, plus several departments, used a classroom. Rather than simply putting iPhoto books and podcasts on display, students from each school demonstrated how they use the technology in their classrooms.
In the West Rowan Middle School room, students easily wielded multiple technological tools, including producing one-minute videos in front of a green screen.
Knowing how to operate devices and gadgets isn’t enough, West Rowan Middle technology teacher Tony Yarbrough said.
“The kids have to learn to integrate technology into a curriculum, like language arts,” he said.
Schools work to make technology relevant to core subjects like math, science and reading, Yarbrough said. By using technology, students can dig deeper into what they’re learning while also preparing for 21st century jobs, he said.
A representative for Gov. Bev Perdue said the event demonstrated the school system’s commitment to implementing technology into everyday aspects of learning.
Rowan-Salisbury Schools has taken the initiative to build upon strengths and integrate technology into the lives of students, said Budd Berro, director for the Governor’s Piedmont Office in Charlotte.
Berro spent more than an hour at the event, touring with Phil Hardin, RSS executive director of technology.
“This shows what good, creative people with good tools can do,” Berro said.
To support public education during the budget crisis, Perdue wants to continue three-quarters of the penny sales tax set to expire next month, Berro said.
Perdue doesn’t want to lose “a single teacher or teacher’s assistant,” he said.
Money handed down to the schools from the state and county no longer pays for technology, Grissom said.
The schools now rely almost exclusively on private funds for technology, including PTAs, community foundations and other grants, she said.
The school system on Friday was awarded $448,586 in grants from the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation. The money mostly will pay for new technology.
While computers, podcasts and the state’s only wireless school buses are great, Wood said she doesn’t want the school to forget about teaching her son the basics.
“I think sometimes the basics are getting pushed behind,” she said.
Technology is a tool the schools use to engage students in the curriculum, Grissom said.
“Not only have we done it, but we have some of the best examples in the country,” Hardin said.
The system in January was honored at a London conference for having one of the 14 best programs for handheld learning in the world, he said.
Brad Walser, the owner of Walser Technology Group who toured the event, said students are using the latest technology available.
“It’s wonderful to see technology being integrated to teach the minds of Rowan County,” Walser said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.