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Ron Folkens

Page history last edited by margaret keir 15 years, 4 months ago

Regional Alternative School Locust Street Campus, Bloomington, Illinois


     As you approach the Regional Alternative School on Locust Street you see that this is not your typical school.  This school is on a state highway in an older Bloomington neighborhood and shares a metal frame building with a window store.  The school is located in Bloomington-Normal, a town of approximately 125,000, that is located approximately half way from Chicago to St. Louis. The doors to the school are locked and upon entry you will notice a metal detector like those seen at an airport. The building itself if in very good physical condition, with fresh paint on the walls, new carpet, and new furniture it offers a clean and fresh learning environment for the students.  The staff of this school is small, only having four full-time staff members (one administrator and three special education teachers) and one part time staff member (special education teacher) at any one time. They are supported by a larger campus less than one mile away and the local Regional Office of Education.


     The students at this school are from many different schools (28 schools last year) in a three county area. Students that attend this campus are in the 7th to 12th grade. The school operates in two shifts, a morning shift and an afternoon shift.  Junior High students and high school students from outlying school districts attend in the morning shift.  High school students from the local community attend in the afternoon.  Approximately fifteen to eighteen students attend each shift, which allows for small class sizes that average to about 6 students per class, but can be as many as ten students. New students will start all semester and some successful students will return to their homeshoools at semester breaks. To attend this campus the students are required to have an Individualized Education Program(IEP) and to have been expelled from their home school.  The school also has a vocational aspect to it in which the students are expected to have jobs or to be actively seeking employment. While the demographics of the school changes from year to year depending upon the students who are referred, currently 97% of the students at this campus receive free or reduced lunch and that rate is typically about 85% for the entire agency.


     The administrator at this campus is Bryan Kendall who is in his second year as an Administrator, but was a Special Education teacher for six years with experiences with students in both urban and rural areas prior to becoming the administrator for the Regional Alternative School’s Special Education campus. Bryan is excited about the use of technology on this campus and is interested utilizing the technology currently available in ways that enhance the student's learning. He is also interested in pursuing additional technologies, such as Smart Boards, if the funding becomes available.


     Each classroom has a similar layout and is equipped with the same technology. Every classroom has a large flat screen T.V. mounted on the wall and a mobile laptop cart with five computers. Every staff member has their own laptop computer that is connected to the T.V. in their classroom. The school is equipped for all of the computers to connect to the Internet through a wireless connection. When the teachers need more than five computers for a class they will borrow computers from another classroom. The ratio of student to computers at this campus close to one computer per student. Through planning by the teachers it is possible that a computer is available for students whenever they have a need to use a computer. This ratio is unique to this campus due to the small numbers of students that are served here.


     In the first classroom, Marci Andrews an Alternative School veteran of nine years, primarily teaches history but also science and business classes. She is generally uncomfortable using new technologies in her classroom, but not opposed to learning about it. Like in the other three classrooms you will find a slide show running on the T.V. in her room displaying rules, focus of study, and other important events for the classroom.  She makes use of the computers in her classroom for research, which can include writing reports and creating presentations to be used in the classroom.   To allow her students to meet the vocational requirements, Marci encourages her students to complete job applications that can be found on the internet and to seek out information about local businesses that may be hiring. Marci uses United Streaming to enhance the learning of her students by showing videos and video segments to her students that relates to her curriculum. Marci stated that she would be interested in more professional development just to see what technologies are available, but she would need to feel comfortable or proficient with these technologies before she used them in her class. 


     The next class we find Peggy Keir who is in her second year at the Alternative School, but has eight years of teaching experience.  Peggy primarily teaches Literature, but also teaches biology and business classes. Peggy's interest in special education was sparked by her youngest  son who has a learning disability.  She has found some technologies have been useful for her son  and is willing to try new technologies with her students. Although Peggy is excited about using new  technologies and willing to give it a try, she has limited experience with technology and sometimes struggles when things don’t work as expected. Currently Peggy uses her student computers for educational games that are included with the business curriculum. She also has the students take online quizzes that are included with the business curriculum in which the results are e-mailed to her upon completion. She uses CD’s that come with the Literature series the school uses that allow the teacher to play an audio recording of the reading for the students. Peggy recently started a blog with her students in some of her literature classes. She is in the beginning stages of using this, but this shows her willingness to try new technologies, learning how they work for her, her classroom, and the students she works with.


      My classroom is the last classroom, and I am in my eighth year teaching at the Alternative School.  I teach two math classes, two science classes, and a business class. I am also the Technology Coordinator for all three campuses for the Alternative School so I need to share my time between this campus and the other two campuses. As I learn about new technologies that are available and can be useful to other teachers I share those with the teachers.  I am excited about using technology and makes use of the resources that are available daily in some form or another. Students in my classroom use similar technology as in the other classrooms. Examples of things that are being used in my classroom are videos that are included with the math curriculum, math games , and quizzes that are e-mailed. I am also experimenting with a wiki page in several classes. Webquests that I have created as well as ones that are included within the textbooks have been used in my class. 


     An observation of a typical day at the Alternative School you will find examples of the students and teachers utilizing the technology available to them. If the teachers are not otherwise utilizing their TV's they will have displayed a PowerPoint running on the screens displaying information that will be important to the students. Students will be writing career reports, doing research, or using websites as directed by their teacher.  You will also find the students using computers to listen to music, check their e-mail, work schedules,and seek out other things that interest them. 


     Digital communication at the Alternative School faces some struggles with the alternative school. Students who attend this campus as well as the other two campuses are searched upon entering the building and must leave any communication devices such as phones and mp3 players at the door. Digital communication with the outside world is difficult for the teachers at the Alternative School because of the need for privacy for our students. Attending an Alternative School has a stigma that is attached with it in society so the teachers and administration at the school take steps to insure that student pictures, and names are not published on anything that becomes public like web pages and the newspaper.  The behavior of the student can sometimes be a factor as to when teachers decide to use technology for a lesson or not to use technology. The teachers at the Alternative School know their individual students and sometimes the use of technology for a lesson may not be appropriate for a particular day. 


     The future of digital communication at the Alternative School, this campus and the other two campuses, will most likely take the form of some form of course management system. Currently the Alternative School is exploring Moodle by developing courses and making use of some of it features in the classroom. Other course management systems are being considered as well. This will allow the Regional Alternative School more options in programming for its students. The use of wiki pages and blogs in the classrooms also have potential. Any new use of technology will take into consideration how the Alternative School can best meet the needs of the students it serves and how we will need to meet the future needs of our students. Professional Development will be an important component of any new technologies that the Alternative School considers to help the staff at this school and the other campuses feel comfortable and proficient with these technologies.


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