The Kids Are All Right

From the Editor

The Kids Are All Right

 

Lee Copeland

There can be a big difference between theory and practice. Just ask Principal Muriel Summers. While many educators may say they believe in allowing students to be partners in learning, Summers models this notion every day at A.B. Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C. (For more about Combs, see “Creating Leaders Is Elementary,” Page 30.)

There can be a big difference between theory and practice. Just ask Principal Muriel Summers. While many educators may say they believe in allowing students to be partners in learning, Summers models this notion every day at A.B. Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C. (For more about Combs, see “Creating Leaders Is Elementary,” Page 30.)

“Our school is the school it is because we listen to our children,” she says. A case in point: Students at this elementary school not only sit in on their parent-teacher conferences and help set their own learning goals, they help Summers interview prospective teachers.

Summers remembers the time she and her students interviewed a strong candidate. His paperwork was in order and his past accomplishments were impressive, Summers says, but he failed to make a connection with the children. Despite the students’ misgivings, Summers hired the candidate; by October he had left the school.

We frequently hear similar stories from other educators. Yet every time it comes across as a surprise, even though we should know better. Part of engaging students in learning is allowing them to be involved in the process.

Examples, Bad to Good

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools. Director of Technology and Information Services Lloyd Brown has been in charge of this district’s widespread one-to-one program since it began in 2001. As the initiative became more sophisticated, he became better about finding out who in the nearly 50,000-student district was breaking the district’s acceptable-use policy.

When some of the transgressions proved especially creative, Brown himself decided to meet the students who were able to beat his security controls. After suspending the students for their actions, Brown did something else: He brought them onto the district’s payroll.

Paying the students to help him maintain a strong network has definitely helped security, but it’s also given these talented kids a positive way to use their expertise. In the meantime, they now have a much better understanding of a possible future in the IT field, and Brown has a much stronger network.

The students at Tech Valley High School in Troy, N.Y., are also involved in their education, but they have one responsibility most other students don’t: a chance to help grade their peers. (For more on Tech Valley, see “Working Together,” Page 32.)

In this project-based learning environment, students work in teams of four to complete a task. They meet state standards through their work and learn group dynamics by picking leaders, creating a pact in which they vow to contribute to the project, and retaining the authority to fire a group member if he or she isn’t doing the work. While firings rarely happen, the students do assess the work of their team members and take the responsibility seriously.

“The self-directed learning makes the students part of the system,” says Raona Roy, the school’s director of institutional advancement. The payoff? Besides having 95 percent of students pass the state Regents exam, Roy says the students have matured and have “learned how to present and defend themselves and take the responsibility seriously.”

A number of schools across the country are experimenting with new approaches to education and technology. You’ll find more of their stories and how they measure the effectiveness of these initiatives inside EdTech.

What’s in a Name?

If students can be involved in running their school, why not in naming it?

When the DeKalb School Board in Illinois renovated an old high school to create an elementary school, they decided to let the students write essays suggesting names.

Bypassing suggestions as varied as All Smiles Elementary, Wildflower Prairie School and The Excellent School of Fine Arts, Music and Technology, the board chose Paul T. Wright Elementary School.

In his essay recommending the name, fourth-grader Henry Deng noted that 40 years ago Wright donated the property on which the school is located. Deng also mentioned that he liked the double meaning of Wright’s name. “People will say, ‘It’s the right elementary school for your kids.’ ”

Tech Innovators

What would happen if you challenged high school students to use technology to help create a sustainable environment? After 200,000 students from 100 countries competed in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, the answers are obvious. Projects include an integrated software/hardware platform that helps farmers convert to more sustainable practices, a real-time air monitoring system that can help enforce pollution laws and a video game that teaches players about ecology and a sustainable environment.

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Oct 27 2008

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