New buses equipped with GPS. More iPads and Chromebooks. Expanded wireless systems.
As students head back to the classroom this week, many will see more technology in school than ever before.
Williamsville administrators will be able to track the location of buses. Sweet Home and Holland will be among the latest wave of districts distributing more iPads to students, and like other districts, Niagara Falls will expand wireless to all of its schools.
“It’s a Google world,” said Cathy Fabiatos, superintendent of Holland Central Schools. “They can get information anywhere they want to. Education has changed.”
It’s not just new technology that parents and children will see. Districts throughout the region spent the summer shoring up buildings in time to welcome students back this week, and some districts will see new or expanded programs.
Prekindergartners will go to school for a full day for the first time in Cheektowaga Central. A newly merged elementary school will open in Wilson, and groups of students in Buffalo and Lackawanna will begin new career-focused programs that will lead to associate’s degrees.
Even policies for cellphones and electronic cigarettes are getting updates in some schools.
Eden has updated its rules to clarify that e-cigarettes will be confiscated and not returned if found on a student. Previously, the devices were banned from school, but parents could arrange to get them back once they were taken away from a student.
“We thought it was important to get some language in our code of conduct that addressed that, because it’s an increasing issue in schools today,” said Jeff Cervoni, principal of Eden Junior/Senior High School. “That added some student accountability.”
Districts across the state have worked to update their policies in recent years to deal with electronic cigarettes as their popularity has grown. Administrators at Erie 1 BOCES, which helps draft policies for roughly 400 districts across the state, updated its sample tobacco policy to ban e-cigarettes about a year ago.
“Certainly, it’s a new and growing area for school districts to have to manage,” said JoAnn Balazs, director of management services for Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Julianna R. Sciolino, associate director of instructional technology resources and professional development at Erie 1 BOCES, said districts are also developing policies to outline how parents and older students can use wireless networks and their own cellphones and tablets, rather than simply barring students from using the devices in school.
That’s the case in Cleveland Hill, where the district will test a new policy that will allow high school students to use cellphones in school with teacher and parent permission. A letter describing the program to parents emphasized that, with guidance about when and where to use cellphones, the new policy would help students “become more aware of the proper place and proper time to be engaged.”
“It is incumbent upon us to let these kids use the devices,” said Cleveland Hill Board Vice President Thomas Kulaszew-ski. “When they get in the real world, they’ll be using these applications.”
Tracking buses by GPS
Students in Williamsville Central Schools will see brand new buses the first day of school. Parents and administrators will notice new technology on the vehicles.
Each new bus will be equipped with cameras and Global Positioning Systems. Administrators will be able to monitor bus locations in real time and use data to track bus routes over time.
“We’re able to better understand what’s going right and if there’s something that needs to be corrected,” said Thomas Maturski, assistant superintendent for finance and management services.
The new buses are owned and operated by the district’s new transportation contractor, STA Transportation, which signed a five-year contract with the district earlier this year. Later this fall, Williamsville schools will roll out an online app that will give parents the ability to track their child’s bus.
“They can get an understanding on those bad days in the wintertime if the bus is a little late, ‘Well, here’s where it is,’ ” Maturski said.
Some school districts across the region will also be handing out more iPads to students this fall.
In Sweet Home, where the district last year issued every sixth- and ninth-grader an iPad, the district will expand its one-tablet-to-one-student program to all sixth- through ninth-graders as it shifts from a traditional paper-based classroom setting to a digital experience, said Superintendent Anthony Day.
About 1,800 students will be assigned an iPad this year. As teachers become more comfortable with the devices, they will use them to conduct lessons in new ways. For example, he said, some teachers might take a “flipped classroom” approach, where students are assigned to watch a video lecture before class so they are ready to discuss and research a topic when they are with the teacher and fellow students.
Students also will begin to see more classroom material available on tablets, including supplements for textbooks. Part of the advantage of tablets, Day said, is that students can learn how to research and make sense of original source documents now available online.
“The days of the paper textbook are numbered,” Day said.
Holland is also among the districts implementing a new “learning and teaching initiative” that will assign an iPad to every student from fifth to 12th grade. The focus will be using the devices to improve instruction, Fabiatos said.
“It’s not a toy,” Fabiatos said. “It’s a tool to empower the students, to enrich the learning.”
It’s not just iPads in classrooms. Some districts are also exploring distributing Chromebooks and Android devices to students as they try to determine the best way to use technology in schools.
“The number of handheld devices that are purchased through our services has increased exponentially,” said Sciolino, who helps districts navigate technology upgrades through BOCES’ Western New York Regional Information Center.
Students in some area districts will find a greater focus on career programs once they head back to school – and a longer commitment to staying in high school.
Districts across the state, including Lackawanna, will launch career pathway high school programs this fall. The programs will be six years long, and students will graduate with an associate’s degree. In Lackawanna, the program is being run in partnership with Trocaire College, Erie 1 BOCES and the Catholic Health system.
The program is aimed at students interested in pursuing a career in health technologies, including surgical, radiology and dietetic technicians.
The state awarded grants to launch the programs in each of the state’s 16 economic development zones. The effort underscores a greater push to get students better prepared for college and future careers.
The Buffalo Public Schools will start a similar program at Burgard High School, where students will have a chance to study advanced manufacturing through a partnership with Alfred State College. Students will be able to graduate within five years with both a high school career certification and an associate’s degree.
That program will offer students opportunities to study auto technology, welding and machine tool technology.
Students in several area districts may notice more of their littlest classmates wandering around the halls, as a number of schools expand their pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs.
In Buffalo, this is the first year state law requires that students attend kindergarten. In most cases, the state requires school attendance for children between the ages of 6 and 16, but several urban school systems now have mandatory kindergarten.
Buffalo is also one of several area districts that will be expanding its prekindergarten offerings, making full-day pre-kindergarten available to an additional 200 children.
The expansion comes with a state grant aimed at expanded early learning opportunities. Cheektowaga, which also received the grant, will use the money to make full-day prekindergarten available for the first time.
Niagara Falls will also receive money for an expansion of its program, adding two new classrooms to its existing program.
Some students heading back to school this week also will see new school entrances, bus loops and parking lots, which were part of construction projects in several districts, including in Grand Island and Hamburg.
One of the most visible capital projects is a new athletic complex at Niagara Falls High School, which includes a newly turfed Wolverine Football Stadium, press box and scoreboards. The complex will also include soccer fields, tennis courts and softball fields. The 7,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed soon.
The district is already planning a grand-opening event Sept. 16 that will feature the Buffalo Bills.
“This is a huge source of pride for our students,” said Niagara Falls Superintendent Cynthia Bianco.