MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Students can join a Pear Deck session, follow along with their teacher on a Jamboard, practice mindfulness on GoNoodle or play part of a song with their instrument while Smart Music assesses their accuracy. These are only a few examples of how technology is changing education.
Learning in 2021 looks different than just a couple of years ago because of the head-first dive into technology that has been necessary during the pandemic. Schools in the district are adjusting their budgets in response.
“Every student has a device at this point. Every adult has a device,” Pemetic Elementary School Principal Rhonda Fortin told the Southwest Harbor School Committee during a recent preliminary budget review at the Jan. 13 Zoom meeting.
“That’s almost 200 [electronic] devices that our tech integrator is trying to take care of… plus all the document cameras and Jamboards. It’s a lot to manage.” Fortin is proposing to add a half-time technology coordinator as part of her fiscal year 2022 budget.
Pemetic, unlike most of the other elementary schools, currently has a full-time technology integrator but he is spread too thin.
“That means he is primarily working on computers rather than meeting with kids to work on really important skills around digital citizenship,” Fortin added during the meeting. She also explained that during previous school years, a team of students was created to help with minor technical issues, but that isn’t happening this year. “He can’t have students help because they can’t cross pods.”
Principals at both Trenton Elementary and Mount Desert Elementary schools are requesting their part-time technology integrator become a full-time position.
“Like the other schools, Trenton is looking to increase its technology integrator position from 60 percent to full time,” wrote Trenton Elementary School Principal Mike Zboray in an email to the Islander. “As a school, we have one-to-one computing at all grade levels (which is) a mix of iPads, Macbooks and Chromebooks. On top of caring for these devices and the related networks behind them, teachers and students need support in maximizing their use in the classroom, this involves direct teaching, which includes programming and other STEM skills.”
At Mount Desert Elementary School, the technology integrator is currently a 40 percent position and principal Gloria Delsandro is looking to make it full time.
“The tech integrator position is a super-valuable position in our school,” said Delsandro during a school committee meeting on Jan. 20. “It not only provides direct instruction to students and enrichment programs for students, such as robotic instruction, digital literacy, media literacy for students… but also provides support to teachers.”
Before the pandemic hit, there was only one-to-one technology for students in grades five through 12, according to Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction Julie Meltzer.
“Laptops for grades seven and eight were purchased through the state MLTI (Maine Learning Technology Initiative) program and older machines were purchased at lower rates and provided to students in grades fifth through sixth,” she said in an email to the Islander. “Some schools had purchased Chromebooks for grades three and four and some had older Mac laptops for those students and some had older iPads for grade three. Kindergarten through second had one iPad per two students or one iPad per three students but many were older.
“Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, schools were adding devices as they could so that more students would have access to learning apps,” Meltzer continued. “However, when the pandemic hit and we went to remote learning, we were quite a long way from being one to one and this included a lot of devices that were quite old and could not run the latest versions of a lot of software.”
Banding together, the school leveraged its purchasing power to make a combined iPad order using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, which were the funds schools received in response to the pandemic, according to Meltzer. That purchase helped the school system to upgrade iPads and make them available one-to-one for kindergarten through second grade. Once COVID Relief Funds (CRF) were available, individual schools used them to purchase additional devices and the technology needed to support online learning and improve remote learning.
“We are now one-to-one for students and all staff – teachers and ed techs and secretaries,” Meltzer wrote. “Plus, additional iPads to help with complex online learning, probably close to 1900 devices.”
Superintendent Marc Gousse has attended each of the school committee meetings to explain items on the budget, if necessary, and explain how schools in the district are doing a lot of the same things.
“I don’t see, given where we’re at, post-COVID, the needs of technology teaching and learning going away,” he said to the MDES board after voicing support for Delsandro’s request. “I firmly believe we need to support our teachers and students in a building-based capacity.
“We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the positive things we’ve learned in teaching and learning as a result of COVID and the things we need to carry forward,” he added. “I do believe that this pandemic is going to…I won’t say revolutionize…but certainly transform public education….and there are components of it that we should consider and possibly embrace.”