NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 14, 2012

Students bringing wireless devices into Pentucket classrooms

By Jennifer Solis Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket Regional School District has embraced the global digital age, thanks to a partnership between its technology department and an education foundation established to support the schools.

Jeannie Frash, technology boss for Pentucket, reports that this year her team is moving ahead with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative that was piloted with funds from the Pentucket Education Foundation last fall.

The initiative is aimed at engaging and empowering student achievement and extending learning beyond the classroom by harnessing the natural affinity this generation of learners has for their iPods, laptops, netbooks and smartphones.

Over the summer the technology department upgraded the network system, servers, online services and classroom equipment, as well as implemented two new virtual desktop labs.

These labs compliment the BYOD program and provide new educational opportunities for students, said Frash. They are “more reliable, have better performance and are extremely flexible in the types of instructional programs that can be offered, all the while realizing huge energy and cost savings for the district.”

Frash notes that already this year many of the faculty in the six Pentucket schools have registered their own wireless devices for use in their classrooms and high-schoolers are now registering their hand-held devices as well.

“We are laying the groundwork for the integration of BYOD in the middle and elementary schools for students,” Frash said.

Students and teachers are now able to connect to a secure wireless network at the high school. With teacher approval, students may use their own WiFi devices to access the Internet and collaborate with other students.

“Our goal is to increase availability of the technology our students need to succeed and to open the door for innovative learning methods. This is an exciting first step and the possibilities for educational benefits are endless,” said Frash.

Pentucket’s technology initiative reflects a growing trend in education both nationally and globally to integrate personal technologies into curriculum. The theory is that students become more independent and lessons become more individualized as these one-to-one learning programs are implemented.

“Schools are moving toward one-to-one environments where every student has a device,” said high school librarian Rachel Costello.

The march toward a wireless learning environment at Pentucket began back in November 2009. Since then Frash’s team has installed 102 high-capacity wireless access points in all six schools plus the Central Office — work that was accomplished “at a cost of less than $80,000 for all schools due to skilled analysis, careful planning, vendor negotiations and tremendous volunteer effort,” she noted.

Last November PEF, in partnership with The Provident Bank, funded $10,000 to pilot the BYOD program in eight classrooms at the high school. The money paid for iPod Touch devices, microphones, wireless access and technology training for teachers.

Costello said the initiative “really spiced up” her lessons and energized students in her classes. And students in the high school’s Connections II class agreed the BYOD program really worked for them.

“An iPod is so much more fun and easy to learn on,” said Mitchell Rancourt. Rancourt’s classmate, Jessica Barlow, said, “It was better than using paper and writing things down, and the activities and games were fun.”

Feedback from the pilot program was used to derive a guide for rolling out the initiative in other classrooms this year. Frash contends that the successful implementation of the program will not only enhance learning but also generate long-term cost savings.

“Using student-owned and maintained equipment will relieve some of the cost burden to purchase and support similar devices for the district,” she said. Eventually, only a small inventory of “check-out” WiFi devices for those students who don’t own one or who forgot to bring one to school will need to be maintained on site, Frash said.

She stressed that parents can feel confident that her department is “committed to supporting the use of instructional technology equipment in a secure environment and determined to be prepared for the technology advances rapidly approaching.”

The nonprofit Pentucket Education Foundation provides revenue to fund unique technology and program initiatives for the Pentucket School District, such as the Bring Your Own Device pilot program. For more information on PEF or how to support its recently launched “Give a Quarter for a Quarter” Capital Campaign, visit www.pentucketedfund.org