Braxton and Gilmer County Public Schools
Located in the heart of West Virginia, rural Braxton and Gilmer counties cope with high unemployment and challenging socioeconomic factors. Yet their students succeed! In 1998 students in both counties scored higher than the national average on the Stanford Achievement Test and ranked in the top 20 among the state's 55 counties. Both school systems maintain attendance rates of 93 percent or better. These alone are great accomplishments, but the success doesn't stop there.
The Central West Virginia Technology Upgrade for Educators program began with a three-day summer technology academy at Glenville State College in 1999. This professional development program involved all K-12 teachers, one teacher aide, and a few administrators from Braxton and Gilmer counties. Project coordinator Brenda Bleigh, a Title I teacher and Christa McAuliffe Teaching Fellow at Burnsville Elementary School, and her colleague Dr. Paula Nelson, a faculty member at Glenville State College, collaborated to create an accessible and relevant professional development program. Brenda says, "It's difficult for students to advance their technology skills, if teachers are not equipped to provide the training."
First, the coordinators scheduled the academy during the summer to minimize competing demands during the school year. Second, they invited teachers to make recommendations and express their vision for the academy. As a result, 68 participants attended instructional programs that demonstrated effective uses of certain software packages (Microsoft Word, Print Shop, PowerPoint, Front Page, and Excel) and the Internet (creating Web pages, using listservs, and setting up Hotmail accounts). Other sessions included software selection and classroom integration of the Internet.
Since the summer academy, several follow-up teacher activities have supported the initial training. Teacher preparation students at Glenville State College have been providing regular on-site technical support to teachers in the two counties and are compensated for their work. Schools represented by two teachers at a half-day workshop on digital cameras received a Sony Mavica Digital Camera. Furthermore, academy attendees may visit and borrow software from the Software Preview Center at Glenville State College.
Recognizing the costs associated with technology training, project coordinator Brenda Bleigh tapped both state and federal initiatives for additional funds. Teachers received a small stipend and free software for their classrooms just for participating. Additionally, local merchants contributed small gifts and door prizes, conveying their appreciation for the teachers' good work and willingness to devote personal time to the training.
Traditional measures of effectiveness, such as improved scores on standardized tests, can seldom be attributed directly to teacher participation in training programs, discouraging many from trying to evaluate impact at all. However, these program leaders set a specific objective of increasing participants' technology skills by 25 percent. Pre- and post-academy surveys and expert appraisal of projects completed by the teachers demonstrate gains.
The program established a number of other measurable objectives:
The undergraduate students from Glenville State College developed the technology handbook and have made technology presentations at PTA meetings throughout the coming school year. These attempts to measure impact are significant. Although the evidence may not relate directly to gains in student achievement, it documents the progress and completion of proposed activities.
The biggest challenge, according to Brenda, is finding the time to implement the project, while teaching full time. She says, "I'm not sure people realize the amount of time required to prepare a grant proposal, submit budgets and budget transfer documents for approval, type purchase orders, communicate with presenters, food service directors, workshop participants, college students, equipment vendors, etc. Except for an occasional telephone call received at school, the work is all completed at home -- evenings, weekends, and summer vacation."
Program attendance has been impressive.Close to one half of all teachers in the two counties have participated in the few short years of the program's existence. The advantages for local schools include increased teacher competence, additional technical assistance, improved community support for technology, and amplified public support for teachers.