Summer's over... Back to the books!

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By Tom Wilmoth

Can you believe it?

    Summer’s over—at least on the school calendar—and some 10,275 Bedford County students are headed back to school Monday.
    The buses will be rolling; books will be passed out.
    And while students will have less time now to play those video games at home, some might find technology playing a bigger part in their learning experience for the 2012-2013 school year.
    “We will have a lot more in the way of blended/online learning,” commented Bedford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch. “We feel committed to that.”
    Part of that is by design, part is by necessity.
    A new state law requires students to take at least one online course before they graduate so BCPS will meet that requirement by having high school students take a mandated economics and personal finance course online.
    According to Dr. Schuch, the more ways the school system finds to implement blended learning, the better it will get at using it.
    A pilot program at Jefferson Forest High School late last year is an example of that.
    JF began letting students bring their technology to school for use, including cell phones, iPads, laptops and e-readers. When appropriate those were allowed to be used for instructional purposes. And in between classes or at lunch, students were allowed to text friends or family on their cell phones.
    Current school policy states cell phones are not allowed to be used during the instructional day, but Dr. Schuch said the JF program worked out well and the school plans to continue that policy this year. He added that Liberty and Staunton River high schools are looking at implementing similar programs sometime this year.
    In some cases, students are already using technology for instructional purposes and Dr. Schuch said this allows the school system to tap into the technology  the  students  already   own,  aprogram known in some circles as “Bring Your Own Device.” He also said the JF program helps with school discipline, because it keeps teachers and administrators from having to monitor the use of cell phones during those non-instructional times of the day.
    With budget constraints on the school system, Dr. Schuch said it makes sense to allow students to use technology they already own.
    “They considered it to be a success at many levels,” Dr. Schuch said of the pilot program at JF.
     “Why wouldn’t we want to teach our kids to engage in technology in a responsible way?” he added.
    He said that in many ways, students will ultimately help set the agenda on how technology can be used effectively in the classroom.
    While he doesn’t anticipate the JF program to reach down to the middle school level, Dr. Schuch said some students are already using technology there, such as e-readers, when it is approved by school administrators. “We just have to find a reasonable middle ground,” he said.
    The school system started using blended learning last summer and this year’s high school summer program was entirely utilized as an online effort. In that program, students began working at the school for two weeks and earned the right to work independently at home. “We’re still kind of learning as we’re going,” Dr. Schuch said of the blended learning format. “We still feel like this is what the future looks like, especially in high school.”
    He added that the state law requiring high school students to complete at least one online course validates what has already started in Bedford County with blended learning.
    The school system will continue to use staggered start times for the elementary and middle and high schools. Some elementary class rooms might have fewer students this year as this year’s budget allowed for a slightly better student-to-teacher ratio in K-3 classrooms as well as a small-schools adjustment in the district’s smaller schools. “The staffing is going to be better than it was last year,” Dr. Schuch said.
    Four new principals are in place this year: Beth Williams at Boonsboro Elementary; Melanie Simmons at Moneta Elementary; Karen Woodford at Staunton River Middle; and Tim Overstreet at Liberty High School. In addition Barbara Rezzonico will be the new administrator at the Bedford Science and Technology Center.
    A division-wide open house and Parent/Teacher conference days were scheduled for this Thursday from noon-7 p.m. Moving up days were planned for Bedford Middle and Forest Middle today, Wednesday, from 9 to 11 a.m. and at the high schools from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.