By Carey Restino
Changing policies on cell phone use by students as well as an effort to get iPods into the hands of elementary school students were among the topics considered by the local Kenai Peninsula School Board at its once-a-year Homer meeting.
At its next meeting, the school board will take up a change in school district policy formally permitting cell phone use by students in schools with the caveat that students not use them during class time or any other time when their use could be disruptive.
Homer High Principal Doug Waclawski said the changing policy will mirror what has already been happening at Homer High — students are allowed to use their phones between classes and at lunch time. He also said teachers are allowing the use of phones as learning tools in the classroom more and more.
“They are using them like little computers,” Waclawski said.
Students use smart phones to research information as well as access educational applications. Some teachers are starting to offer quizzes and surveys online which can be accessed by students using their phones as well, the principal said.
In its proposed cell phone policy, the school district acknowledged the importance of cell phones as tools for students to stay connected with their parents, as well as access electronic information. It noted, however, that teachers would have discretion as to the use of cell phones in the classroom and that the privilege that will be forfeited for any student who fails to abide by the policies of the school.
Students are not allowed, however, to use cellphones to view an Internet site that is blocked by the school, send text messages or other communication that is harassing or discriminating or take harassing photos.
Students are also prohibited from the use of cameras in the restroom, dressing room, locker room or taking photos of any person without permission, the proposed policy states.
Phones may not be used to record or capture the contents of tests, assessments, homework or class work without the permission of the instructor and any hacking or intentional modification of data that belongs to others is prohibited as well.
The district will also refine its policy on special education program cell phone use when it considers the cell phone policy update at its next meeting.
Seaton presents iPod touch program
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, led a worksession Monday afternoon explaining his efforts to get iPod touches into Kenai Peninsula schools. Seaton secured $52,500 in the state’s FY13 budget to purchase the hand-held devices, which offer the benefits of a smartphone like an iPhone, but without the phone component. Students can surf the Internet from any location with wifi and teachers are learning how to integrate the devices into classroom programs. Four southern Peninsula schools – Chapman, McNeil Canyon, Paul Banks and West Homer – were given the 172 iPods for use in various grade levels and teachers were trained in their use. While more research into the academic impact of such devices is needed, the school district reported that initial responses were positive.
Teachers reported using the iPods for a wide variety of purposes, from vocabulary development to research and video tutorial viewing. A wide range of applications were loaded on the iPods, including iBooks and games that teach math, reading and grammar.
Teachers were also able to use the devices for formal and informal assessments.
They were also able to send the iPods home with students for skills practice, curriculum video content and research.
Students were surveyed at the end of the year and reported that most felt the iPods made them a better reader, math student and bring more excitement to the classroom. In grades 1-2, 93 percent of students said they were glad that the iPods were used in class. In grades 3-8, 76 percent said the appreciated the device use in the classroom.
One use for the iPods was using the voice recorder tool called Voice Memo so students could read aloud and then play it back to hear themselves. One teacher noted in their survey, she saw students thinking more critically about their fluency after recording and listening to themselves on a weekly basis.
FFA program a loss
Al Poindexter, a longtime teacher at Homer High, informed the board that a program that he saw as hugely beneficial to students had stopped this year for lack of a program leader. Poindexter offered any two board members a free flight down to the next national convention of The Future Farmers of America so they could see firsthand the benefits of the program, which stretch far beyond farming skills to all sorts of leadership and business skills.
“It’s the best leadership training bar none,” Poindexter said. “I implore you to visit the FFA convention and see what the kids are missing out on.”
Poindexter pointed out that few students know what they are going to do in high school, but the skills learned in this leadership-building program are highly transferable and have helped launch many young people into a wide range of career paths.
“We have students that have started in that program and are still running those businesses,” he said.
Senior board member honored
Outgoing board member Sammy Crawford has served the Kenai Peninsula and beyond for so long as an educator and board member that she is known throughout the state only by her first name, several board members noted as they bid adieu, some tearfully, to this longtime education advocate.
Crawford came to the district in 1968, working at Kenai Junior High. She retired from teaching in 1996 and was elected to the board in 1998.
Crawford said she recalled thinking initially that serving on the board would be the easiest thing she’d ever done because of her many years of experience as an educator. She quickly learned how much there was to learn and do in the name of education.
“It has been a wonderful journey,” she said.
Sunny Hilts, longtime board member, wished Crawford an emotional goodbye, saying she was her mentor and friend.
“I can’t imagine the board without her,” Hilts said.
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