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WC schools 'rethinking learning' with technology

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DALLUS WHITFIELD/The Wilson Post

Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright said the future is here when it comes to connecting students with technology.

Wright welcomed community leaders, including Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead, Economic Development Director Helene Cash, Wilson County Commissioner Annette Stafford, and Wilson County Election Commissioner Phillip Warren, educators and more to a Wilson County Schools Connects discussion at Lebanon High School on Wednesday.

She said that the system is responsible for a total of 17,092 students - 6,200 students in nine elementary schools; 1,956 students in three K-8 schools; 3,243 students in three middle schools; 5,960 students in four high schools; and 403 students in specialty schools. Specialty schools include virtual school, alternative school, adult high school and early childhood programs.

Wright added that while they are doing a lot of things right - such as having a graduation rate of 96.3 percent - it is essential that the community understands what technological advances must be made to get graduates ready for the world - from kindergarten on.

Wright explained that kindergarten has changed since 20 or 30 years ago. "It used to be all naptime, but now our children are leaving kindergarten being able to read... Kids are expected to know numbers and colors when they enter school."

She recalled going into a kindergarten classroom at Tuckers Crossroads Elementary where children were gathered around a table, wearing headphones and watching something on an iPad-like device. She said they were using the devices to learn how to read and hearing pronunciation of words on their headsets.

At Watertown High School, every student has a Dell laptop to complete their studies. Wright said that having devices for each student provides immediate feedback and gives them 24/7 access to a learning environment.

Wright remembered getting a calculator. She said her father had given her a slide rule, which was the precursors to calculators, and said that she didn't need a Texas Instruments calculator. "He said, 'You don't need to be pushing buttons - you need to think.'"

As she told her story, she added that those in education are the most resistant to change because they already believe they "know how to learn."

While that is true, they also must prepare children for a very digital future. "We are rethinking learning," she said.

Devices, such as those used at Watertown High, are meant to enhance learning.

She explained that a lot of times the school system is "held hostage" by textbooks, because they are not always aligned with the standards and by the time they are ordered and received are already out of date.

"Textbooks need to last us six years before the cycle comes back again," Wright said, adding that devices when used in conjunction with textbooks can bridge the gap. Devices would cost $250-300 per child and loaded with resources for about $75.

WTHS Principal Jeff Luttrell spoke about his initial resistance to having each student equipped with a learning device.

"When we got the plans on our new building three years ago, one big question I kept asking was, 'Where are the computer labs?' The old building had three labs, counting the business lab... Someone finally broke the news to me and I was skeptical."

Although he is a self-proclaimed worrier, Luttrell got on-board once he realized the impact it had on children - and how it made them more excited to learn.

"These kids of today's generation can learn digitally. Think about your family with small kids - how are they engaged? It is through technology," he said. "I have a fourth grader, who when my iPad is messed up can fix it. It is what they are used to."

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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