Technology in schools

Tennessee school boards group teams with Apple on digital learning project

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, outlines the Tennessee Digital Learning Project to regional school leaders Monday evening at Brighton High School in Tipton County.

The Tennessee School Boards Association is partnering with Apple Inc. and other state educational organizations to launch the Tennessee Digital Learning Project, a platform to offer new digital resources to high school students, teachers and parents.

The initiative also will help save money for local districts, which invest in textbooks that often become obsolete even before they are distributed to students, according to organizers.

TSBA leaders have been unveiling details about the project at its regional meetings this fall. The launch is scheduled for next spring.

“By utilizing these free, modifiable learning resources, boards can use the textbook money on devices and technology infrastructure,” according to information distributed to school leaders. “The Tennessee Digital Learning Project is designed to help school districts use and share open educational resources, thus helping our teachers as they deliver content in the classrooms.”

The project will use Tennessee teachers to curate materials for the state’s 17 high school courses such as Algebra I, English I and geometry, according to TSBA executive director Tammy Grissom.

“It will be aligned to whatever standards we have at that point in time,” she told a group of West Tennessee school officials at Monday’s regional association meeting in Tipton County.

Grissom said the digital platform will provide access to resources that include “textbooks, lesson plans, videos — whatever materials out there that would help teach that particular course.”

Ultimately, the goal is to equip high school students to interact in a digital world.

“All of our jobs nowadays, everything is online and immediate and up to date,” Grissom told Chalkbeat. “And that’s what we want for our kids. We want all of our kids in the state to be prepared, whether they’re going straight into the workforce or to college, to be able to utilize all resources out there because all of our workplaces use things digitally.”

Next week, TSBA leaders will review applications for the teacher teams, which will consist of 17 groups of up to five teachers each, to develop the digital resources. In November, Apple staff will meet with the teacher teams for two days of training, and the teams will curate materials from December to February. Association leaders hope to launch the resources by April.

Parents, students and teachers can access the project through iTunes U, a dedicated section of Apple’s iTunes Music Store that features educational audio and video files from universities, museums and public media organizations for free download to PCs and mobile devices. Any district that does not use Apple products will be accommodated, Grissom said.

Grissom said a prototype for English III is under development by a team of Knox County educators. She said teachers and partnering organizations are donating their time. “We’re all going to do the work and provide it to systems free of charge,” she said.

Apple is also assisting with the project at no charge, according to Grissom. Other partners include the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, Tennessee Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, and the Tennessee Education Technology Association.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.