Next fall, Alton seventh- and eighth-grade students will have individual laptop computers and new interactive whiteboards in their math, science, language arts and social studies classrooms, as part of a $12 million federal grant program.
"We're excited," Holly Reese, Alton Schools coordinator of special programs, said Monday, Dec. 20, of the stimulus-funded project to study technology-enhanced professional development in Missouri middle schools.
Reese said she and Alton Superintendent Sheila Wheeler applied for the grant, which was awarded to 60 rural schools across the state. Along with the new SMART Boards and computers, the district will receive accompanying scanners.
The enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies (eMINTS) National Center at the University of Missouri secured the federal money to study the effects of the eMINTS professional development program on the achievement of rural students.
Reese said the district's core classroom teachers will attend three years of professional development training, starting during the summer of 2011, for the project. All equipment and training are at no cost to the district.
Participants from 60 school districts are divided into three study groups for the five-year project. At the end of the grant period, approximately 10,500 Missouri students and 240 teachers will have been served by the intensive professional development, in-classroom coaching and technology-rich classroom environment of eMINTS, according to a Missouri University press release.
"Technology is a huge part of their lives now," Reese said of students.
Reese said students are now limited to doing online research when the computer lab is open. With each junior high student having a laptop assigned to them during school hours, they will be able to research the Internet at any time.
"For research, it will all be right there at their fingertips," Reese said.
Reese said students also will be able to create PowerPoint presentations from their laptops and gain technology skills faster than before.
Dave Haggard, New Franklin R-1 School District superintendent, whose district serves as a model for eMINTS and a grant partner for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant project, "Validating eMINTS," also commended the program, according to the release.
"As a long-time teacher and administrator, I can honestly say that I have seen few concepts, ideas or programs introduced into education that have had the same type of positive impact on student learning as eMINTS and inquiry-based instruction," Haggard said.
Forty-nine school districts, nonprofit education organizations and institutions of higher education nationwide were selected from nearly 1,700 applicants for funding under the program.
The i3 fund, part of the $10 billion investment in school reform in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), will support local efforts to start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for high-need students.
Applicants were required to demonstrate their previous success in closing achievement gaps, improving student progress toward proficiency, increasing graduation rates or recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and principals.
The Alton R-1 Board of Education thanked Reese and Wheeler at the board's Thursday, Dec. 9, meeting for their efforts to secure the grant.
In other business:
* Wheeler highlighted for the board parts of the district's five-year facilities' plan, which includes buying new elementary lunch tables, replacing the high school's metal roof and windows. The district also needs a larger bus barn and maintenance truck. The district may also consider moving the alternative school to the main campus, she said.
* The board heard the district received a $26,266 credit on its property insurance bill and approved the annual premium of $64,000.
* The board tasked Wheeler with getting more information from the Oregon County Commission regarding the county's federal audit. The commission billed the school district $6,800 for a share of the $20,000 bill. Wheeler said this is the first time the county has asked school districts to contribute toward the county audit bill.
The Alton R-4 Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, 2011, in the high school library.