First the Buckeye Education Foundation raised funds for a designated PE teacher for its district’s elementary school students. Then it ensured greater access to the libraries at the eight school sites by funding library aides. Now the foundation is close to fulfilling another goal: All students in grades third through eighth will have access to a Chromebook at least once a school day by next year.
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“The Buckeye district just approved the purchase of an additional 1,225 new Chromebooks on top of the 650 already in place,” said foundation President Jon Yoffie, who founded the non-profit five years ago with wife Shannon. “This will put the district right on the front edge of the EdTech (educational technology) movement.”
In the Buckeye District Chromebooks are used for myriad learning opportunities and have become a typical part of students’ school day. At Brooks Elementary, for example, fourth graders in Jennibeth Diaz’s class recently used them to tackle the question: “Do you think the El Dorado Hills community should voluntarily conserve water?” First they researched the topic by reading a recent Village Life article online. After discussing the issue with peers they individually responded in The Cloud via TodaysMeet, a free service for hosting backchannel (live conversations going on elsewhere) discussions. Three classes on campus participated in the virtual discussion from their respective rooms at once.
“They only have 140 characters to respond (using TodaysMeet), so critical thinking is emphasized,” said Brooks principal Kathi Jensen. “With the short amount of space and transparency of other kids reading what they’ll write, they really have to think about what they’re going to say. I visit classrooms every day and I can definitely tell their writing has gotten better.”
“We use the Chromebooks for Language Arts, reading, writing, presentations; they cross all subject matters,” said Diaz. “As a tool they’ve opened collaboration and communication. The kids are really engaged.”
Next door in Trever Crowson’s fourth-grade class students like Kayla Vernaza could see how neighbors in Diaz’s class answered the same question. After reading incoming responses, students were asked to offer their own original statements. “We need to have water for the hot summer and to go boating in the summer,” wrote Kayla.
Then students printed and sorted the various answers from the three classes. In small groups they categorized the answers and created topic headings.
“The Chromebooks are used in multiple ways,” said Yoffie during the visit. “They allow students to do way more than they could with just a pen and paper.”
“The Chromebooks have been a game changer for this class,” said Crowson as one of three teachers piloting the program at Brooks before it’s rolled out school-wide next year. “There’s a greater access to information and they are working on problems together. It’s building a stronger student.
“It’s changed our teaching a lot too because it’s opened up our strategies,” Crowson continued. “I still value traditional teaching methods like handwriting and hands on work. We won’t flip to tech completely, but this is a nice balance.”
On this day students tackled local water conservation, but they’ve been given various topics all year, ranging from literature questions to “How have Chromebooks enhanced your learning?” Several teachers mentioned it’s a perfect segue to the Common Core standards because using Chromebooks in this way, and in many others, fosters critical thinking.
The Chromebook daily goal is for third- through eighth-graders, but Jensen said it’s had a ripple effect on younger students too. “At Brooks our kindergarten, first- and second-graders have more availability at the computer lab because the older students have Chromebooks.”
As for the additional Chromebook rollout, Yoffie said all Language Arts classes in grades sixth through eighth district-wide would have classroom sets by next year.
The Blue Oak Charter Montessori will have three carts for five third-grade classes, three for five fourth-grade classes and three carts for three fifth-grade classes.
At Buckeye Elementary all third- through fifth-grade classes will have their own carts for a total of eight classes. Oak Meadow will have nine carts for all nine fourth- and fifth-grade classes and three carts for five third-grade classes. Brooks will have eight carts for nine third-, fourth- and fifth-grades classes. Silva Valley will have two carts for four third-grade classes; two carts for four fourth-grade classes and four carts for four fifth-grade classes.
“You can offer all the technology in the world, but without training it’s futile,” said Brooks PTA president Brian Hicks, referencing LA Unified School District’s recent $1 billion debacle in an effort to provide all its students with iPads. In the first rollout at 47 campuses, the nation’s second largest school district had teachers reporting not being able to connect to the Internet in some classrooms and many students bypassed firewalls to access prohibited websites. As of this writing, they’re still trying to figure out what went wrong.
“Staff development is key,” said Yoffie. “Training is at the core of all this new technology and it’s ongoing.”
The foundation hired Buckeye Union three-time teacher of the year Kevin Tierney to be a fulltime EdTech coach TOSA (teacher on special assignment). He visits the district’s eight school sites and works closely with the 20 teachers currently in the Chromebook pilot program. In turn those teachers train the staff at their respective schools, and they in turn educate students and parents at regular Ed Tech forums.
A recent district release for an “EdTech night” stated: “Parents, come learn how Buckeye Union is currently moving forward with instructional technology across the district. In addition, hear how we plan to continue the expansion of educational technology opportunities for students into the future. Promoting student use of technology in the classroom is central to the Buckeye Union Vision that together with families, the community, and a highly qualified staff, we will ensure that each student masters the knowledge and skills needed to maximize his/her academic and personal success in a global society.”
More than 600 501(c)(3) nonprofit education foundations operate in California today. According to the California Consortium of Education Foundations the focus and goals of each may vary but, “All share a common commitment to improving education at the local level.”
Yoffie repeatedly said the foundation couldn’t exist without the support of each school site’s PTA/PTC/PTO organizations, yet together they can accomplish more.
On the Buckeye Foundation website it states, “Site-specific parent groups are restricted to the purchase of physical goods (iPads, Chromebooks, playground structures, etc.), or programs staffed by unpaid volunteers (Meet the Masters, etc.). The foundation, by contributing at the district level, is able to fund the staffing that installs and maintains the technology items purchased and trains teachers how to use them. Both levels of contribution are important.”
“We’re the cart (PTA) and they’re the horse (Buckeye Foundation),” said Hicks. “You can fill the library with books, but what about the librarian?”
The foundation committed $135,000 district-wide this school year for technology training and to pay for the full-time Ed Tech coach. The foundation also picked up the $44,000 bill to install wireless networking in the eight school sites last year.
Since its inception five years ago the foundation has raised approximately $650,000 with hopes of raising between $500,000 and $1 million annually in years to come. Most of its support comes from parent contributions and by hosting fundraisers, such as the fifth annual Toast to Education coming up on May 3.
“There were no bond funds used for the EdTech program in the past couple of years,” said Yoffie. “However, the district is using one-time state provided Common Core Transition dollars to purchase some of the Chromebooks. This is supplemental to the parent group funded purchases.”
The foundation also relies on the support of local corporate sponsors, including El Dorado Disposal/Waste Connections, Mercy Hospital of Folsom, Datwyler Orthodontics, California Skin Surgery Center, El Dorado Hills Sports Club/Asante Spa, El Dorado Hills Chamber of Commerce, Lyon Real Estate, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Taylor Morrison Homes, Kidz Gear, Domino Theory Marketing and Goldkey Storage.
Parents at neighboring Rescue Union School District have attempted to start a foundation without success. They can be complicated to get going, but well worth it, emphasized Hicks and Yoffie.
Hicks explained why parents should care about the greater good of their school district, and not just their own school’s PTA. “When every child is given the tools to be successful it flows into the broader community,” he said. “When schools are exceptional, kids benefit directly and the community benefits indirectly. The best way parents can make a difference is to first get involved with their school’s PTA, but PTAs and education foundations are not either/or.”
Yoffie wants more parents to understand that the foundation’s efforts are ongoing. “We’re not buying one thing and then that’s it,” he said.
In a statement to Village Life Buckeye Union superintendent David Roth said, “It is because of enduring parent support that Buckeye Union has been able to move forward with providing technology to students and professional development support to teachers that will ensure children at every site in the district will receive a high quality, 21st century education.”
For more information about the Buckeye Education Foundation or to donate visit buckeyefoundation.org.