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Alone With J

September 4, 2012

By J SWYGART
    Textbooks may not be extinct in public schools quite yet, but they’re certainly headed down that path. And educators at North Adams Community Schools have embraced that growing trend.
    This year, for the first time ever, all students at Bellmont High School have been given iPad tablets, those multi-purpose, Internet-based devices that are being widely touted as the textbooks of the future. Students from pre-school through grade eight, while not offered their own take-home iPads, will also receive extensive instruction in their use and capabilities.
    “We began today helping students bond with their iPads,” high school media specialist Michelle Houser told the North Adams school board on Tuesday evening. “Our goal is to be intentional in teaching the kids to use their iPads effectively and properly.”
    For the next few weeks, high school students will be instructed in the physical care of their tablets, its use as a productivity tool, and the responsibilities and ethics of digital citizenship.
   Houser said the school district’s use of the “My Big Campus” learning platform allows teachers to post assignments, hold discussion forums and issue papers online for the students to access at their leisure.
   “This is a great addition to our curriculum, with lots of opportunities to help our students,” Houser said. “I think this will be revolutionary in teaching 21st century learning skills.”
  To their credit, the administrative staff at North Adams has correctly realized that merely handing students an iPad tablet is only one small part of the equation in taking digital learning to the next level.
    Those school leaders are cognizant that students, teachers and parents alike must be brought up to speed on the new technology with a common mindset. In that vein, teacher training sessions, after-school assistance for students and evening meetings for parents will be made available to remove some of the mystery surrounding the iPad’s capabilities.
    Veteran educator Jeannine Smith said meetings set up to inform parents about the iPad program drew an unexpectedly large number of community members. “We talked with parents about why it is important that we make this move toward digital learning,” Smith said. “It’s a building process where over the next several years we will start replacing textbooks.”
    School officials also correctly realize that the playing field remains unlevel for some students now armed with iPads, especially those who do not have Internet access in their homes.
    Miriam Hopkins, technology director for the school district, said North Adams officials are exploring options to narrow that learning gap. She said educators are engaging in talks with local Internet providers about the possibility of reduced costs for low-income parents, as well as attempting to partner with the Decatur public library and  other public sites where wi-fi Internet access is available. “We want to make this a community endeavor,” added Houser.
    The administrators and educators at North Adams are to be commended for going the extra mile in the attempt to ensure — to use a tired cliche — that no child or family is left behind in the booming digital age.
    Our only fear is that, as textbooks are replaced, so too will be pens, paper, and the ability to do anything more than copy and paste other people’s ideas and work. While iPads are indeed a great tool for learning, here’s hoping other teaching methods — tried and true ones — do not fall entirely by the wayside.

County council’s act getting old
    
    Frankly, we’re growing a little weary with the Adams County Council’s seemingly endless nitpicking over personnel issues and, in a larger sense, the council’s view that the county’s books will be balanced almost entirely on the backs of the county workforce.
    In the latest episode this week, the council — begrudgingly, in a 3-2 vote — agreed to a pay increase for a 17-year county employee who recently switched positions and had been working at a reduced salary for several months.
    A county department head sang the praises of his new employee, saying she has “hit the ground running” and has already completing eight projects since being brought on board.
    “That’s her job,” said County Councilman Dennis Bluhm.
    While Bluhm’s response was smug and unwarranted, the department head’s reply was right on the money. “That is her job. Exactly. That’s why I’m asking for the pay for that job,” he said.
    Bluhm and Councilman Phil Wulliman stubbornly and foolishly voted against the pay increase. Fortunately three other council members showed at least a modicum of common sense.
    But the message being sent by the council as a whole is that valuable county workers are an expendable commodity. And in the long run, that type of thinking is a disservice to the county as a whole

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