Last week’s TICAL cadre retreat afforded me my second opportunity this year to visit a district and glimpse firsthand some examples of what Arkansas teachers and kids are doing with educational technology. I chose Harrison because it was in a part of the state I’d not visited before and it’s home to Susan Gilley, one of our brilliant and indefatigable cadre members.
Located in the heart of the Ozarks near the Missouri border, the city of Harrison has a population of 13,000 and is the seat of Boone County. Indians were the first inhabitants of the area, the first probably being the “Bluff Dweller”, who lived in caves in the bluffs along the rivers. Today, Harrison is home to Buffalo River National Park, a long, narrow park with over 100 maintained trails. Something I learned, in fact, is that there is such a thing as a “national river” and that the Buffalo was the first one!
Harrison Public Schools serve approximately 2,600 students. The district spends $9,453 per pupil, has a graduation rate of 90%, and a student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1. 48% of the student body is classified as low income, the percentage of English learners is less than 1%, and 9% of students are eligible for special education services.
Tuesday morning, I reported to Dr. Aaron Hosman’s office. Aaron and I go way back. He was a founding member of the TICAL Arkansas cadre in 2002! Aaron has been a superintendent of schools for many years. Most recently, Harrison asked him to be interim superintendent and then stay on for a year to help the new person—new to both the role and to Arkansas—get oriented. It was great to see Aaron again after many years.
Aaron put me in the able hands of Adam Archer, the district’s manager of information technology. Our first stop was Harrison High School. Last summer, the school underwent a major renovation as well as the addition of two beautiful new facilities: a new gym and a performing arts center.
The highlight of my visit to the high school was the EAST lab where Kelly Regan shared some of the projects underway. For those not familiar with EAST, the acronym stands of Environmental and Spacial Technology. The program combines project-based learning with state-of-the-art technology. Students identify needs or issues that matter to them and then use the technology resources of the EAST lab to create solutions.
Kelly is completing her first year as the program’s facilitator. It was great to see both her enthusiasm and expertise as she shared some of the current projects, many of which involve virtual reality and 3D printing. For example, one group of students is working to promote one of the excellent but lesser known nearby hiking trails. To stir up interest, they are creating virtual “teasers,” each of which represents a certain place on the trail. You can literally see what you’re missing by not getting out and hiking the whole trail.
Two other projects combine VR with 3D printing. In one, students are creating a small bust of a student with the hope that it can be held by the student’s parent and serve as a comfort while undergoing some serious medical treatments. In another, students are designing a custom support attachment for use by a wheelchair-bound student to prevent the student’s arm from slipping off the chair’s armrest.
The next stop was the middle school, where there is also an EAST program. It provided another example of 3D printing at work. In this case, students had designed a prosthetic arm for a kindergarten student in Rogers, Arkansas—over 80 miles away!
While I got to visit all four elementary schools, it is that time of year and “TESTING: Do not disturb” signs were on many classroom doors. At Skyline Heights, however, I was in luck. Second grade teacher Hannah Campbell’s students were just leaving, and she was kind enough to give up some of her prep period to tell me about how she was using technology with her students. All elementary classrooms, starting at first grade, have classroom sets of Chromebooks and Hannah puts them to good use. Clearly an organized person, she has set up systems to make it very fast, easy, and efficient for the kids to get their computer, get logged into the Google account, and get to work. She has also created custom menus for her students with just the resources and apps she wants them to have available, and no more!
Thank you to Aaron for welcoming me to the district (and for knowing where to find the best chicken salad sandwich you could ever eat) and to Adam for taking the time to be my tour guide. Once again, I’m impressed with public education in Arkansas and, in particular, how technology is being put to work in the service of learning.