Getting technical

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:53

    SUSSEX-WANTAGE-With the increasing popularity of computers and the New Jersey Department of Education setting technology goals, some schools have a hard time keeping up with the Joneses. Of three local school districts n Sussex-Wantage, Frankford and Lafayette - Sussex-Wantage has the fewest computers to offer its students, despite being the most populous district. With three schools serving 1,750 students, Sussex-Wantage has just 183 computers and one computer lab, or one computer for every 9.5 students. Comparatively, the Frankford school district, which has 750 students attending one school, boasts three computer labs and 48 laptops. While that works out to fewer computers per student than Sussex-Wantage, the portability of the machines and the fact that they are all in one school makes them more accessible. The Lafayette district consists of one school attended by 370 students with three computer labs and 185 newer computers n one for every two students. "In addition to the state of New Jersey requiring that every student by the end of fourth grade understands basic features of a computer, such as simple graphics and data interpretation, teachers are asked to incorporate technology into the curriculum for all subjects," said Robert Zebrowski, district technology coordinator for the Sussex-Wantage Regional School District. With limited financial and space resources, improving the access to computers and new learning programs is no easy task, particularly for the Sussex-Wantage district. Some schools are older and have smaller rooms, making it difficult to fit more than one computer in the room. Zebrowski, who started his new role in September, said, "There was a fear and uncertainty among the teachers and students. We have tried to resolve this by training teachers individually and installing as many new computers as financially possible." In the last five years, the Lafayette school district seems to have solved that problem. "Every teacher has a workstation used for emailing, daily attendance, grade book and report cards," said Tom Shuman, a computer technology teacher at Lafayette Township School. "I am a one- man show," Shuman continued. "I teach computer skills to grades Kindergarten to eight, plus I maintain the servers and assist the teachers. We teach the kids the skills needed to complete projects that apply to a cross-curriculum at all different grade levels." "Technology was a concern when I arrived here three years ago," said John Mulford, principal of Sussex Middle School. "We had only one media center without a teacher to bridge the gaps in technology. We tried having outside consultants, but we needed a person who is part of the team and can provide the service and programs needed to enhance the curriculum." Sussex-Wantage, with support of the board of education and Superintendent George Papp, implemented a plan that included hiring Zebrowski as well as initiating a referendum that is on the agenda for next year. The referendum will ask taxpayers to approve tax increases to fund improved technology in the schools. The referendum vote is scheduled for March, by which time the board will have worked out how much the program will cost. According to the board of education, the response has been positive from the parents for a revised 2005 technology budget. In just three months Zebrowski has made great strides toward establishing such basic services as the Internet and E-mail, adding a new computer lab and introducing the "SmartBoard" which is a new technology that students use to make interactive presentations. "Teachers need to have confidence in the technology. We are finally managing to achieve that so it can be applied to the curriculum," said Papp at a recent board meeting. All of the educators interviewed agree that incorporating technology has been very effective. "Students embrace the idea of learning interactively," said Mulford. "There is a vast amount of software programs that are carefully chosen by the schools and integrated into classroom instruction." But, with technology constantly evolving and new computers becoming obsolete in just a few years, the question still remains: How can the expense of having to constantly install new systems be successful without other areas of education being sacrificed?