Literacy Initiative at RCSD’s McKinley Institute of Technology (MIT) Earns Kent Award for Use of Technology Tools to Boost Achievement
Students who don’t have access to computers and WiFi in their homes often fall behind in today’s technology-based learning environment, and parents who don’t have access to the rich array of technology-based tools cannot support their students’ learning as easily as parents who do. Redwood City School District’s (RCSD) McKinley Institute of Technology (MIT), a 6th-8th grade school that has been transformed into a technology learning hub, recently won a Kent Award from the San Mateo County School Board’s Association (SMCSBA) for its work in closing the digital divide between families who have access to technology in the home and those who don’t.
“Our staff, students, and community members have all contributed to the success of our Literacy Initiative,” says MIT Principal Mr. Nick Fanourgiakis. “I feel honored that McKinley has been acknowledged and believe that it demonstrates the value, impact, and success that collaboration between school and community can have for our students.”
The award-winning program is a one-to-one literacy initiative designed to address the access gap, often referred to as a digital divide, by providing students with access to various technology-based learning experiences both in the classroom and at home. The project was designed to engage students, teachers and families in using technology to support literacy achievement, and to increase overall family engagement in the school.
All 400 students in the school are provided with Chromebooks that they use at school in every subject area, including online reading and writing activities. Students attend a ten-day boot camp that teaches digital citizenship and digital media lessons before they receive their devices.
Students can take devices home after school, and families without access to WiFi at home are provided with “hotspots” that give them access to the Internet in their homes. Students participate in a literacy elective that allows access to personalized, independent reading resources. Students also have the opportunity to take a computer science course that allows them to complete three levels of coding before they graduate as 8th graders.
A key component of the project is to provide technology training to parents to increase their engagement with the school and help them understand how to help their students use technology in learning. Parents attend an orientation program at the beginning of the year where they learn to support their students in digital homework assignments, and each parent gets help in setting up their own email address. Parents also have the opportunity to attend workshops throughout the year. In the workshops, parents work with their students to create PowerPoint presentations, play games on digital safety and practice vocabulary, and learn how to access and use an online tool that provides information on their student’s assignments, and grades. The average number of sign-ins to the parent portal per day has increased 33%, with 53% of students now showing that parents are viewing their records. Thus, not only are more parents accessing the records, but they are doing so with much increased frequency, suggesting they are now comfortable engaging in this way.
Besides technology training, parents also have other opportunities to get more engaged in the school. Cañada College offers English language acquisition classes free of charge to parents right at MIT, increasing access to college education for parents, and acquiring skills that make it more comfortable to converse with their child’s teachers and engage with their student’s work. More than two dozen parents signed up each semester. Parents also are invited to join the principal for a monthly presentation, and afterwards he takes them on a walking tour of the campus and classrooms visits. The program helps parents feel comfortable engaging with the school itself directly, rather than relying on their student to relay information. The parents also have access to monthly coaching and planning meetings to encourage parent-to-parent communication.
Thanks to financial support from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative for the project, MIT teachers receive training on how to use digital tools effectively in instruction and they are supported by an onsite instructional coach and a partnership with Digital Promise, a non-profit organization that provides onsite assistance and coaching for teachers and administrators.
The project has been very successful in raising literacy and increasing family engagement. “My hope is that our Literacy Initiative has helped promote a passion for reading that will give students the tools they need to be successful in high school and beyond,” says Mr. Fanourgiakis.
In fact, the percent of students performing below grade level was reduced in half, from 50% in 2015 to 25.93% in 2017. Parent engagement is higher, with 100% participation in orientation trainings, and in increase in the percentage of parents who indicated that they feel welcome at the school according to a recent climate survey.
The Kent Awards are given by the San Mateo County School Boards Association to outstanding and innovative programs either in the classroom or outside the classroom as well as district-wide programs. Applicants must demonstrate their programs promote student success, employ a high degree of creativity, and demonstrate transferability. Named after past San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools, J. Russell Kent, SMCSBA initiated the program in the 1980-81 school year.