How technology, health care and community partnerships are transforming local education

Innovation in education today seeks to serve the “whole child.” In Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky classrooms, this means adapting teaching methods to students', and shifting the traditional teacher-centered model to one more focused on customizable education experiences. Schools are also beginning to form stronger links with their communities and offer more comprehensive services, from health care to home visits by teachers.
 
“Learning is going to be much more personalized,” says Byron McCauley, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of External Relations. In its mission to improve classrooms through innovation, KnowledgeWorks created Forecast 3.0, a look at the future of education from a research perspective. The study examines social and technological disruptions shaping education, and provides strategies for managing trends so that their consequences work for the individual needs of students and not against them.
 
Disruptions to traditional learning, such as the breakdown of teachers and textbooks as knowledge centers, and the growing sphere of social media, provide the trends that Forecast 3.0 suggests educators harness rather than fight. Instead of limiting learning to the perspective of one textbook, teachers guide students to research and synthesize information from a variety of sources both physical and digital. In an innovative classroom, students may also learn to use social media for group work collaboration rather than casual status updates.
 
As the evolution of culture and society influence learning, the way forward is through creative thinking about where to form partnerships and how to steer trends. 
 
“Let’s design for learners, and adapt the learning ecosystem to them rather than hope that learners adapt to it,” says Katherine Prince, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight. 
 
Newport Schools combine technology with a personal touch
One way to make trends work for students is to bring new technology directly into the classroom. By early 2014, every Newport Independent School District student in grades 9 through 12 will be equipped with an iPad for both school work and homework. With soft rollouts currently underway, some upperclassmen are already using iPads in the classroom and to help with ACT preparation.
 
“It’s a big, big push for student engagement,” says Christi Tyndall, Chief Academic Officer at Newport Independent Schools. Integrating new technology into classrooms not only engages students already familiar with and interested in it, but also provides an opportunity for students without new technology at home to catch up and become proficient.
 
iPads aren’t the only new technology appearing in Newport classrooms. These days, students do a greater variety of work in the classroom, and one of the newest additions is the Khan Academy, a free web-based library of educational challenges, assessments and videos.  Teachers pair the interactive, project-based learning exercises with their own lesson plans, and assign students online work both in and out of class to complete at their own pace. 
 
“It’s pretty out of the box.  It gets kids applying themselves in higher level thinking tasks: building, making, creating," Tyndall says.
 
The move toward customized education also has students beginning homework in class. This way, teachers can monitor whether students properly understand and can complete assignments, so that those who may not have support at home don’t become lost and fall behind. 
 
Adding a technological element, Newport utilizes a data management system that keeps data cards on every student in the district. School faculty monitor students three times a year to update all 1,740 information cards with personal, behavioral and academic information. 
 
“We’re tracking every student so that everyone gets an effective experience,” Tyndall says.
 
Taking personalization a step further still, Newport schools implemented home visits for the first time this year. Before the school year began, teachers visited homes to introduce themselves to students and their families and welcome them to the district.
 
“We’re saying that we’re here beyond the classroom to provide what they need,” Tyndall says. “Think what a difference that can make. A teacher may be the only positive role model in their life.”
 
Cincinnati Public Schools partner for student health and early success
Partnership collaboration and customized education in Cincinnati Public Schools take the form of Community Learning Centers (CLC), an effort to address educational success with the “whole child” approach. Oyler, a K-12 school in Lower Price Hill, is the most developed example to date. 
 
Working with numerous partners in funding, training and development, Oyler School now houses and operates the OneSight Vision Center, the Delta Dental Clinic, general and mental health clinics, as well as a daycare center. It’s the first in the United States to incorporate self-sustaining, school-based clinics. All services are available to Oyler students as well as those from other schools in the surrounding area. 
 
Roberts Academy is another CLC in Cincinnati that has developed to meet the specific needs of its community. The region surrounding the school has experienced a large influx of Hispanic families, now comprising one-third of the school’s student demographic. In response, the CLC there developed an international welcome center, English classes for parents and coffee hours with advisors to help navigate rules in this country parents and students may not be familiar with. 
 
CLCs develop following an assessment of barriers, and an examination of how community resources can help overcome those barriers. The power of the CLC is in targeting specific needs within specific communities, says Janet Walsh, CPS Director of Public Affairs. 
 
Looking at overall student wellness and recognizing that the reasons for poor performance are sometimes rooted in areas a traditional school system alone cannot address, CLCs bring in services and partners that can look at children’s needs holistically, examining more than just what goes on during the school day.  
 
Most schools in the district now have a Resource Coordinator in charge of bringing programs and services into the school building. So while not every school may have its own dental clinic, there is support and impetus for schools to begin building bridges within their communities.
 
“We would like to see all schools eventually become Community Learning Centers.  They support the whole child and the whole community," Walsh says.
 
As it develops support for students’ physical health, CPS has also partnered with the Strive Partnership, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, to bolster the intellectual readiness of students entering the public school system.
 
“Students with a quality preschool experience do much, much better than those without one,” Walsh says.
 
Strive championed a joint program with United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Success by 6 called Preschool Promise. The program is funded at $6 million to $9 million a year with the mission of providing a chair for every child in a quality preschool—one that goes beyond the realm of just babysitting and daycare. A quality preschool introduces the kinds of skills needed to prepare children for kindergarten, like knowing colors and letters. Children who begin kindergarten without this background struggle against a much steeper learning curve. 
 
Based on kindergarten readiness in literacy assessment tests, children who have had a quality preschool experience within a highly rated preschool have an 80 percent proficiency rate, whereas those who don’t are closer to 45 percent, Walsh says.
 
CPS and Strive have also begun the Read On! Campaign to get students reading proficiently by the third grade. Studies show that students unable to read by third grade fall behind at a much more rapid rate than others, and have more difficulty catching up, Walsh says. Third grade reading levels are shown to be one of the most significant predictors of high school graduation and long-term success.
 
The campaign’s purpose is to galvanize volunteer support to work with students, reading to them and helping them become better readers themselves. It’s currently active in 19 school districts across Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.  
 
Reconfiguring classrooms in Covington
To tackle the growing wealth of highly accessible, decentralized information, some schools are exploring new cognitive approaches and completely restructuring classrooms. Holmes High School in Covington partnered with Project Lead The Way to establish a biomedical program that turns the traditional approach to teaching on its head.
 
“It’s extremely student-centered. Every lesson is thought out with the learner in mind. Students solve problems from all angles, using technology, writing and research to find information on their own and develop solutions,” says Elaine Dietz, Science Department Chair at Holmes. 
 
Unlike traditional labs where students take notes on teacher demonstrations, the biomedical program offers exploratory labs based on scenarios in which students find solutions to problems. For example, Dietz says, students are presented with a patient exhibiting certain symptoms, and they must make a diagnosis using their own research and investigations. The lessons are designed so that student findings match the target material for the day. After the hands-on, self-driven activity, the class regroups with the teacher to confirm and solidify all the information they’ve already found out on their own. 
 
“We disguise biochemistry as a problem-solving exercise, framing the information in a prettier frame so students are interested in finding out more about it. The kids love it and retain so much more,” Dietz says.
 
This is the third year of the program at Holmes, and students in the class of 2015 will be the first to graduate having completed the full course. Those finishing all four years of it will receive dual credit that can count toward university courses. While the program is centered in the life sciences, even students not headed for medical careers can participate in it and benefit from the experience. 
 
“It pushes students to think and explore. It’s very rigorous. It gets them to look at the world differently, regardless of whether they want to go into science as a career or not,” says Renee Murray, Instructional Coach at Holmes.
 
Although the biomedical program may be the most innovative at Holmes, it’s only one of eight career pathways, each with a distinct set of courses. When students become upperclassmen, they must choose a specialty within their career cluster. Within the Information Technology cluster, for example, there are exclusive courses in subjects like media, programming and communications. Holmes is unique in that it’s the only school in the region that requires every student to choose a career path. 
 
“The career clusters have really changed the culture of what we do here at Holmes,” Murray says. “It’s what motivates kids to take challenging courses and push themselves toward better academic performance.”
 
Partnering for success
In classroom structure, methodology, utilization of technology, kindergarten readiness and even student health, partnerships between traditional educational institutions, communities and innovative organizations are emerging as the way for schools to effectively meet the needs of today’s students. 
 
Strive, CPS and a few lone staff from Microsoft developed a tracking system called the Learning Partner Dashboard. It tracks academic and behavioral progress of students affected by partnerships. CPS has five years of data showing how students targeted to receive specific services do, in fact, outperform other students. 
 
“We have been blessed with a lot of great partners, already more than 600 across the district,” Walsh says. “Cincinnati is a community that cares about the success of its students.”
 
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