East Garner competing for more technology

kjahner@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2013 

East Garner Elementary School students have access to some technology. But their principal said it’s not enough, so she enlisted the students in an effort to win more.

East Garner along with seven other Triangle schools are participating in a contest put on by furniture and electronic outlet Big Lots that will ultimately dole out $120,000 in financial support.

The retailer tasked each school selected to participate by producing a video and essay explaining why their school needed financial support. Then the public votes on the videos on the competition’s website. The vote-leader after July 7 wins a $20,000 cash prize; two $10,000 prizes, four $5,000 prizes and 30 $2,000 prizes will be awarded as well.

On the competition website (http://www.biglots.com/lots2give/vote), 186 schools from across the country have entered videos. Triangle schools include East Garner Elementary, Durham School of the Arts and Githens Middle in Durham, Forest Pines Elementary in Raleigh, Franklin County Early College High and Royal Elementary in Louisberg, Lake Myra Elementary in Wendell and Wake Forest Elementary.

Voters can vote at the website after viewing any of the videos. In addition, selected schools have Big Lots locations collecting $1 and $5 donations from customers, all of which goes to participating schools. (Garner’s Big Lots is located at 1515 Garner Station Blvd.)

In East Garner’s case, the prize would go toward more technology in the classroom.

“We know that immersing our students in digital tools is the best way to keep our students globally competitive,” principal Kim Burton said. “We are not a STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) school and we are not a magnet school, so we have to stretch our resources to provide the availability of new technology to our students.”

In a video starring its elementary school students East Garner makes its case. The clip opens with a black-and-white classroom as a student-playing-teacher with a Charlie Brown-style droning adult voice incomprehensibly lectures bored students.

After wondering what technology might do to the mind-numbing classroom, the video notes that in a school of 650 students, East Garner has 40 iPads, zero laptops and one smart board. Various students then talk about what the technology would allow them to do.

“Technology would help me to connect with all the kids around the world,” one student says. “Technology would help me with research and to learn more information,” adds another.

Burton said students already grasp some technologies better than a lot of adults. Expanding the school’s capacity would do even more than immerse students and facilitate competency in the crucial new tools.

“Motivation and self-esteem also increase with technology use, and we know that motivation and self esteem help to increase student achievement,” Burton said.

Forest Pines Elementary and Wake Forest Elementary also hav an eye toward technology, such as iPads or Kindles and interactive whiteboards. Githens Middle School hopes for a makeover for its art department through graphic design software.

The Durham School of the Arts puts a different spin; the school with 22 autistic students wants learning technology but also to create facilities teaching life skills; for example a laundry area to learn to wash clothes.

Lake Myra Elementary School in Wendell hopes to put the money toward an outdoor classroom, complete with benches and a garden. Principal Jim Argent sees it as a way to integrate a variety of subjects along the lines of the new Common Core Standards. Students outside can learn science through a garden and other observations of nature. They can also use it as inspiration for art, music or writing projects. In addition, garden food could go toward local food kitchens, Argent said.

“It would tie in Common Core standards, be part of the community and help students give back to others,” Argent said.

Franklin County Early College High wants money for supplies so students can erect an outdoor shelter to increase lunch capacity, alleviating crowding while providing a learning experience. Royal Elementary proposed another construction project: a blacktop play area for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Breakfast Blitz

As East Garner competes for the Big Lots cash prizes, it has already been named a winner of a $1,000 Breakfast Blitz grant from America’s Milk Processors.

The program awarded $250,0000 in grants to winning schools to promote healthy breakfast options. The National Dairy Council, National Football League and U.S. Department of Agriculture collaborate on the Fuel Up to Play 60 nutrition and exercise program, which is a part of the Breakfast Blitz program.

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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