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X-FACTOR: Honorable Mentions

Five district leaders devised other worthy X-factors we wanted to share with our readers.

Learning Cafe

Phoenix (Ariz.) Elementary School District #1

The Capitol School in Phoenix, Ariz., is surrounded by run-down, industrial areas, liquor stores, motels and gas stations, and when students leave school, their homes serve as the only refuge to connect with friends. School staff want to change this.

They want to create a student-run “Learning Cafe” with computer workstations where students can use AutoSkill’s Academy of READING and Academy of MATH software and earn “learning points” for meeting benchmark goals that could be redeemed for snacks, beverages, or prizes. The lounge could also serve as a student gallery, displaying projects and artwork. Says mathematics teacher Zachary Roper, “It would serve as the heart of our school community—a meeting area for school clubs and a showcase of the academic success of our student population.”

Roper says a small structure could be purchased and/or constructed for $10,000 and inexpensively furnished. Staff could buy a half dozen computer stations, equipped with the software, and remaining funds would be used to stock the caf? with food and prizes, which could be replenished through future donations and fundraising. Students would come after school to receive tutoring, help with homework, or just relax in a safe place with friends.

Parent Empowerment Program

Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools

Despite great efforts, many schools are finding it hard to meet their annual yearly progress goals under NCLB, a challenge that can be linked to the difficulty English Language Learners (ELLs) have in meeting benchmarks on language arts exams. Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools is no exception, says teacher Helen Garcia.

But ELLs are also often part of a well-connected family that has left another country and is adapting to a new culture and language. Immigrant families experience many challenges that can impact student achievement, such as longer work hours, a decreased likelihood of enrolling their children in preschool and a lack of literacy skills in their first language, in addition to English. And reaching parents is critical in effecting change for children—especially ELLs.

So Yonkers officials are proposing a program to strengthen the link with parents to support literacy and math skills. The outreach project, or Parent Empowerment Program (PEP), would include monthly talks for parents on various topics, such as child speech and language development, the importance of play and learning, coping with stress, budgeting and digital literacy. Sessions would allow parents to practice strategies and techniques and would provide them with networking time.

Resources to deliver the program would include both AutoSkill’s Academy of READING and Academy of MATH so students could bolster their reading, writing, math and critical thinking skills in a lab, as well as AutoSkill software for helping parents learn English. Presenters, guest speakers, specialists and instructors would also be brought in.


Robotics Program

Portsmouth (Va.) Public Schools

Officials at Portsmo uth (Va.) Public Schools wish to give their students a practical experience that goes above and beyond standard definitions of “handson.” With a project designed to “open all students’ eyes” to science, technology, engineering and math, district leaders would bring Lego Mindstorms NXT robots into the classroom to engage children with projects that cannot be easily taught with traditional computers. The goal would be for students to think outside the box, and teacher Andre Peltier says the field of robotics holds enormous opportunity when it comes to software and system design for different kinds of robot functions.

The NXT robots are part of a programmable robotics kit that comes with its own programming software for modeling the robot behavior. Throughout the project, students would experiment with different programming structures, write papers, and give PowerPoint presentations. Students would research different forms of energy, force, velocity and acceleration to develop their understanding of science and math.

The program would allow students to experiment with robots with the use of Academy of READING and Academy of MATH to gain mastery and to give them an understanding of modern systems and the problems that go with design, analysis and system programming. Students would also learn different approaches to producing robots capable of performing a task in a surgical capacity, exploring other planets, or even in the field during war.

Interactive Group Learning

Cooperative Educational Services, Trumbull, Conn.

Students at Cooperative Educational Services, a regional educational service center, hail from districts throughout Fairfield County, Conn., and exhibit a range of emotional, behavioral, social, academic and learning difficulties. The children vary in academic ability but often arrive at the program with very little data on their academic development, says Therapeutic Day Program school principal Carol Danenberg. AutoSkill’s Academy of MATH would provide an assessment tool to establish a standardized baseline and measure progress for students in crisis.

School officials hoped to launch a project using the software to monitor academic progress and detect the need for intervention among middle school students.

First, Academy of MATH would be installed on existing computer lab machines, allowing students to progress at their own pace while providing positive feedback and measurement against goals. Second, monies would be used to purchase SMART Boards and related technology.

School officials say they would rely on the reporting features built into Academy of MATH to monitor progress and would use the tools to apply technology and software to the curriculum.

Danenberg says there is much research supporting the effectiveness of technology in motivating students to learn, especially among special ed. The goal of the program would be for each student to improve one level on the Connecticut Mastery Test.


All Children Can Excel (ACE)

Buena Vista City (Va.) Public Schools

Most local employment in Buena Vista, Va., does not require a high school diploma. Officials at Buena Vista City Public Schools say that 62 percent of residents have service or farming jobs. But school leaders want to ensure that students obtain the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century and earn a high school diploma.

School staff proposed “Project ACE” (All Children Can Excel), an early intervention program targeting students in grades 3-5 who are performing below grade level or are academically at-risk due to family or economic factors. Participants would meet twice weekly after school to use AutoSkill’s Academy of READING and Academy of MATH to study, learn, practice and review different topics. Each session would also include a 21st-century component focusing on math and language problems related to the community. Students would receive one-on-one assistance.

Parents of third- and fourth-graders would also be invited to monthly computer lab nights to explore the Internet and review the educational software used by their children, who would act as instructors and demonstrators. The parents would see firsthand the importance of 21st-century skills, and their children would gain self-confidence.

In August, a four-day math and reading camp would also be offered to rising fifth-graders previously enrolled in Project ACE and would include computer time with Academy of READING and Academy of MATH alternated with classroom instruction and hands-on labs. Using current events relevant to the community, 21st-century lessons would also be incorporated into the camp activities.—ZM