Public school teacher from the Bronx
Our school was founded in 2004, with the aim of developing the literacy skills of our student community through a variety of educational opportunities. One proven strategy, is the effective use of technology in every subject area. In less than 3 years, we have moved from a school using minimal technology, with a faculty reluctant to integrate technology tools, and where the relevance of technology resources was undervalued, to a school working to fulfill the demands of an increasingly tech-savvy faculty, and “tech-hungry” student body. We have increased our technology equipment each year in an effort to meet these demands. We have been recognized, with several honors, for our after-school Technology program called MOUSE Squad. For those unfamiliar with MOUSE Squad, this is a program that provides students with leadership, technology, and soft skills such as teamwork, collaboration, project management, and communication, in order for them to provide technology support in their school. In June of 2006, we were awarded MOUSE Squad of the Year and, just six months ago, we had the privilege of welcoming Bronx Borough President, Mr. Carrion, to our school to receive a proclamation. The Borough President was able to see, first-hand, some amazing Internet resources being utilized. At the same time, he was able to speak to students and staff regarding the limitations we face each day, in terms of bringing these resources to our students. Access to a reliable, high-speed Internet connection, and the ability to maintain an outdated Internet infrastructure persists within our school, and similar schools throughout the Bronx. So again, we thank Mr. Carrion for the financial commitment he made to the Bronx Writing Academy.
Equitable access to the World Wide Web, and the wealth of information available through the Internet is, without doubt, one of the most significant issues facing our school system today. Nowhere is this more apparent than in under-served, underprivileged schools, such as The Bronx Writing Academy. Eighty percent of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and the implications of this extend beyond the school, into the homes and living environments of each of those students. Interestingly, only 20% of our parents indicated their children have computer and Internet access at home.
BWA is fortunate to have collegial teams of highly dedicated, creative teachers, who continue to integrate technology tools into their curriculum, with the aim of providing authentic, relevant skills in all subject areas. On any given day, however, there is a very real sense of uncertainty in terms of whether the Internet and the resources they have spent so long collecting, will be available due to the adverse affects of our poor wireless Internet connection. The hard work, and increased interest our staff demonstrates, signifies how relevant they believe the use of technology is across the curriculum. The superb efforts of our MOUSE Squad students in supporting the use of Technology and maintaining or repairing equipment, indicates the high level of interest they have in technology. And, the creation of my own role demonstrates the commitment of our Principal and faculty, and what can be achieved in a relatively short period of time. As a result, we have exhibited continuous improvements in ELA and Math test scores, for three years in a row. In ELA, we have moved from 22% of students at proficiency level in 2004, to over 30% in 2006. Similarly, our Math scores indicate a 7 percent increase for the same period. In addition, we have reduced the number of students performing at the lowest levels in both ELA and Math (a 21.4% and 9.3% decrease respectively). This is, in no small part, due to the commitment of students and teachers alike to address differentiated instruction through the increased, effective use of technology tools.
We have made, and continue to make significant strides in terms of technology integration, yet there remains a great deal to achieve at the Bronx Writing Academy, and schools throughout our borough. In order to continue in the same vein, and provide the very best educational resources, it is absolutely necessary for our students and faculty to have access to a reliable, high-speed Internet connection. Within each classroom, at any point of the instructional day, there is a genuine concern our ideas will not be realized because the infrastructure cannot cope with more than 30 students accessing the same website at the same time.
Current, and future generations will require relevant 21st century ICT skills in order to enter a workforce increasingly driven by technology. The Internet, World Wide Web, and technology tools will continue to play a vital role in developing social skills, and very real understandings of the world beyond the Bronx, New York City, and the USA. To deny students opportunities to a reliable Internet connection, both in school and their home environments, is to deny opportunities to develop those skills necessary to succeed in any number of professions.
The emergence of new technology tools such as PodCasting, blogging, safe networking sites such as Think.com or e-Chalk, and the vast array of interactive online activities, increasingly demands the attention of both students and teachers as a way to enhance learning opportunities. The reasons for this are clear!
• The variety of online resources appeals to the multiple intelligences of our diverse student populations!
• Internet tools provide platforms for authentic and relevant Inquiry, Constructivist, Problem-based and Project-based learning.
• Students are provided opportunities to participate in learning beyond the textbook!
• Differentiated instruction becomes a tangible reality for teachers and students alike!
• The numerous possibilities to communicate with peers, contemporaries, and mentors throughout the world.
• The ability to produce publishable work available to a global audience becomes a reality!
• And, the Internet allows students to research and investigate beyond their immediate environment in order to return answers, data and information truly relevant to their lives.
All of these possibilities, however, will remain undiscovered if connection issues remain a low priority. It is inconceivable that textbooks, paper, pens, pencils, or worksheets would not be provided to students. All are, quite rightly, a necessity within any school environment. Yet, there remains a barrier, or reluctance, to accept that as part of our current, technology-driven world, Internet access is not viewed as an equally significant resource, relevant to each and every one of our students.
The Digital Divide continues to dominate the lives of students throughout the Bronx, but no longer is this divide solely centered on issues of purchasing equipment, or being able to afford working computers and software. There is now the added issue of access to the vast array of online resources, communication tools, interactive websites, and authoring tools available via the Internet. As educators, policy makers, budget controllers, and concerned citizens of New York City, we must support the notion that our student communities need to work in environments where high-speed Internet access is viewed as a truly vital element in their educational development.
If ever there is a doubt concerning the significance and relevance of Internet resources, and the high-speed connections needed to access them, please visit any classroom in any of our city schools. Speak to students about the possibilities they see through increased use of the Internet, and the disparity of availability they know exists between themselves, and those students in rural school districts.
Thank you again for your time, and for allowing me the opportunity to present a case for improving the Internet infrastructure of our city public schools. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007