Students and teachers at one Bradford County school got off to a bumpy start last week.
The district’s superintendent, Chad Farnsworth, received word of Starke Elementary’s significant mold problem a week ago. The school closed for cleaning, and students have been relocated.
Elsewhere in the district, though, the year is starting more positively.
At Brooker Elementary, a school 20 minutes to the west, students are enjoying improvements added during the summer.
A $5,000 grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement allowed the school to refurbish its flowerbeds, repaint the school’s walls and add a storybook garden outside, said Debbie Parmenter, Brooker’s principal.
Parmenter said she applied for a Toolbox for Education grant on Lowe’s website because she wanted to get her students excited for the new year.
“Students are not dreaming the way they used to,” she said. “The imagination is not there in the way we used to see children imagine.”
After finding out her school won the award, Parmenter gathered a group of 47 volunteers in August to help build the garden. Known as “Fern Gully,” the garden is equipped with fairies and fairy homes that coincide with storybook locations like Neverland and Narnia.
Parmenter said the garden reinforces the school’s message for the year: “Dream big dreams and do big things.”
Lisa Graham, principal of Southside Elementary School, said she is excited about introducing a new iPad app, GoodReader, to fifth-graders. The iPads are available to fifth-graders and every teacher in the school. The app will allow students to highlight, annotate and answer questions about specific areas in a text.
“Our students can really learn from it,” she said. “They just soak it in.”
GoodReader is $4.99, and Graham said it enhances students’ interest in reading because of simple features like text highlighting.
Brooker Elementary has also been using iPads in the classroom to further students’ math and reading skills. Parmenter said teachers must plan ahead to sign out the 20 devices available. She also explained how the iPad apps allow students to engage with one another on a more regular basis.
“It’s not the talking head of the teacher in front of the room anymore,” Parmenter said. “That’s long gone.”
Stephanie Nash, a first-grade teacher at Brooker Elementary, said students become familiar with iPads as early as kindergarten. She said she likes using apps like MathBoard. Nash also allows her students to use other educational apps for 15 minutes during “fun Friday” time each week.
It’s an evolution from when kids used Mac computers in the classroom for games like Oregon Trail.
Tricia Cook, a parent at Brooker Elementary, said she loves how her children have gotten to use the iPad in their classes.
Funding is an issue within Bradford County, and having access to certain software updates and additional technical equipment has been a challenge.
“I would like to see all students across the county have access to the iPad,”she said.
With about 3,500 students in total, Bradford County implemented several other changes over the summer in hopes of benefiting all students, Parmenter said. There was a push to create “professional learning communities” where faculty members are encouraged to learn and understand the perspective of an impoverished child.
Parmenter said about 76 percent of Brooker Elementary students receive free or reduced lunch, and all other schools in the county have similar statistics.
“Generational poverty is a big issue affecting performance in the classroom,” she said.
Brian Graham, the district’s community relations coordinator, said the rural area is not the wealthiest. But a student’s future, he said, should not be determined by his or her past, and educators should be focusing on inspiring students to strive for the career of their choice.
“Whether you are rich or poor, you can still learn,” he said.
Brenda Donaldson, Hampton Elementary’s principal, said she is looking forward to incorporating the new i-Ready computer software into her students’ daily schedules. The web-based program features an adaptive diagnostic pretest to determine the areas of math and reading that students need to work on.
It then recommends further activities for them to complete.
“We want students to improve on their math skills,” she said. “Especially fractions.”
Donaldson said all elementary schools in the county will be using the program in their computer labs this year with the goal of raising Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores. She said she plans to have students use the software for 30 minutes each day.
“The use of technology is the way to our future,” added Cook. “Students need to be prepared for that.”