Author Archive


How Data Analytics Can Help Your District Transition to a Digital Learning Environment

This guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Monica Cougan, Product Marketing Manager, ENA

ENA Affiliate Catch On

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic looks like it will continue disrupting education this fall. Schools nationwide must
therefore prepare by developing remote and blended learning strategies that meet the diverse needs of the communities they serve. But here’s the good news: schools have spent the past few months finding innovative responses to the challenges they face and developing some best practices that can help districts both large and small.

Santa Fe Public Schools was one such innovative district. Dr. Neal Weaver, the district’s Director of Digital Learning, started overcoming the innumerable challenges created by COVID-19 through a resolute commitment to success. “Early on we resolved to have the mindset that we have to do distance learning successfully because our students deserve it,” he said.

To get results, Dr. Weaver decided to leverage the power of data analytics. Thanks to CatchOn, an expansive data analytics tool that provides administrative leaders a window into the efficacy of their technology investments and integrations, he has been able to track how the district’s 12,000 students actually engage with the district’s technology—and therefore get real-time data about how to develop an effective digital learning program.

ENA Affiliate Catch On As a result, Santa Fe has already achieved real success through its remote learning initiatives. More than 96% of the district’s students connected to essential tools and services—plus they did so for longer and longer periods of time, indicating sustained engagement. The district has partnered with local community institutions, such as the University of New Mexico, to create hot spots around the city that help close the connectivity gap.

Looking back over his district’s successful transition to digital learning, Dr. Weaver has the following advice for other educators facing similar challenges.

  1. Always think of your initiatives as works in progress

Everyone—administrators, educators, students, parents—is learning as they adapt to changing circumstances. “That’s why I really emphasized to my team that we won’t be perfect, but that’s ok,” Dr. Weaver said. “It’s just so important to keep moving forward and not get stuck.” That way, it’s easier for districts to learn from mistakes and to adapt to new opportunities and challenges.

  1. Gather data about your community’s actual technology use

With a data analytics tool such as CatchOn, districts can see how students actually engage their remote learning initiatives—and therefore evaluate key performance indicators in real-time. “That shows us which apps the district really needs to support,” Dr. Weaver said. Furthermore, effective analytics empowers districts for the first time to gather quantitative data about what portion of students has reliable connectivity access—and that means the district can be more responsive to the community’s actual needs.

  1. Rethink your ideas about success to match the new circumstances

Santa Fe quickly found that the old metrics of success no longer applied. Attendance, for instance, is no longer about having ENA Affiliate Catch Onall students present at the same moment. Instead, the district has discovered through data analytics that many students access resources at different times throughout the day, allowing them to juggle other responsibilities they may have at home. And so Dr. Weaver recommends districts engage the community for feedback on ways each district can meet the needs of all students, regardless of different circumstances.

At the heart of Dr. Weaver’s recommendations—and therefore of effective digital learning—is powerful data analytics. The more a district knows about how students engage technology, the more administrators will be able to make informed decisions. “Simply put,” he said, “data provides a means to guide the district.”

About the Author: Ms. Cougan joined ENA in 2012 and oversees ENA’s partner program and product marketing initiatives in her role as product marketing manager. Monica has over 30 years of experience in education technology integration that she leverages to help assess, identify, and support the needs of today’s education communities.


ENA is a SETDA Gold Partner, to learn about SETDA’s Emerging Partner Program.



Modernization through Innovation: Increasing Capability through Systems, Processes, and People

Hopper Quote: Most DangerousThis guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Patrick Cook, Account Executive, UPD Consulting.

Why do we do what we do? Is it the best way to achieve our desired outcomes? How do we know?

Innovation drives improvement. It begins with good fundamentals that are affirmed through a process of discovery and intentional design. UPD is proud to have been selected to work with the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) to support their vision to sustainably drive successful outcomes through an innovative approach to data systems design. Improving processes and human capacity is at the core of their people-centered development project. We’re excited to be a part of this project because we specialize in connecting systems to the processes that make them work and the people who use them.

MDE recently restructured its technology office into the Office of Technology and Strategic Services (OTSS), which now includes research and a stronger role in data analysis and reporting. OTSS created goals and deliverables in nine key process areas under an overarching change management strategy. They identified 35 additional goals and priorities to implement their vision for a future state design in order to fully achieve Goal 5 of MDE’s Strategic Plan: “Every Community Effectively Using a World-Class Data System to Improve Student Outcomes.”

Building on the strength of its staff and structure, OTSS is now poised to address the other components of its IT Capacity Maturity Model—technology and processes. Well-designed processes must surround technology systems so that high-quality information is used to inform decision-making and service delivery.

UPD begins this crucial initiative with the end in mind, a future state where a thriving organization regularly uses interconnected data to manage its outcomes. Rich data that is easy-to-access and easy-to-understand in the hands of all decision-makers being used every day to continuously improve the way we work together.

We understand that to achieve MDE’s vision, data must be used not only to measure progress, but to drive implementation, to course correct, to shift approaches, to test new theories, and to relentlessly examine assumptions. It is important to know what works, but equally so to quickly stop doing the things that aren’t working and to do more of the things that are. The goal is to provide stakeholders at all levels of the education system—students, parents, teachers, leaders—with the power and agency that comes with access to effective data.

Over the next two years, we will help MDE design a world-class educational data system by first understanding the questions educators and their constituents are asking and the processes they use to answer them. That’s modernization through innovation. Integrated technology systems built to empower the people who use them to drive change, to improve student outcomes and to increase operational efficiency. We are excited to be part of this work, and we welcome your insight.

[If you’re interested in being informed of progress, please join the UPD Systems, Processes, and People Newsgroup. Privacy statement: your email address will only be used for this newsgroup and you may opt out of communications at any time.]

About the Author: Patrick Cook, UPD Consulting, is an expert in organizational behavior and analysis who specializes in finance, performance management, process improvement, and data use for decision making. He helps clients to understand that organizations are all perfectly designed to deliver their current results, and that any desired change in those results requires some change of the organization.

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UPD Consulting is a SETDA Emerging Partner, to learn about SETDA’s Emerging Partner Program.


Building Resilient Schools for Next School Year

This guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Brendan Desetti, Director of Government & Stakeholder Relations for D2L.

As the school year comes to an end in many places around the country, the uncertainty of COVID-19 looms in the future. What is certain, is that while we once hoped for summer respite, the needs of schools and children demand overdrive planning to curtail future learning disruption.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently indicated that a second wave of infections is “inevitable.” The continued threat of COVID-19 means school districts are not likely to re-open for the fall semester, if they open at all, without physical distancing mandates that fundamentally change the way schools operate.

In this new reality, it is imperative that states use their CARES Act dollars to support school districts in redesigning their learning systems for resiliency. Our schools must be able to serve students face-to-face and online simultaneously. Further, they must be capable of serving all students face-to-face one day and all students fully online the next day, without missing a beat of learning. Resilient systems of learning will keep student learning moving forward. Never stagnant. Never falling behind.

To ensure resilient and equitable systems of learning, it is the State that must provide the digital learning infrastructure necessary to operate under any condition. Providing for the digital learning infrastructure means:

  1. closing the homework gap by supporting district efforts to provide a device to every student that needs one and internet access to every family without it;
  2. providing for a statewide learning platform to enable teacher-led instruction, learning progression, and parent engagement; and
  3. increasing professional development for teachers to adapt to the pedagogical needs best suited to their instructional method (in-person or online) and their students’ needs.

The state assuming this role helps to ensure that every district has the same level playing field and expectations to provide high-quality, teacher-led, learning to students. By alleviating this burden, districts can focus their resources on providing the teaching and non-academic supports necessary for every student to succeed.

Digital learning infrastructure has historically been left to school districts to support and implement independent of state intervention. In some cases, districts have been able to afford and support it, and we are seeing early successes in those places to quickly shift students online and continue learning and services uninterrupted (see Gwinnett County Public Schools). But in most school districts, especially those serving rural and at-risk students, the infrastructure simply does not exist or isn’t sufficient to serve the full population.

Only through state level action can learning inequities, based on access to and quality of digital infrastructure, be addressed in an equitable manner. The disruptions to learning arising from COVID-19, makes it is necessary that the state step in to address these inequities. The CARES Act funding provides that opportunity.


Brendan Desetti is the Director of Government & Stakeholder Relations for D2L ( In his role, Brendan works with policymakers and education stakeholder groups to identify and promote positive education policy and practice to support and expand learning opportunities for all students. His portfolio includes accessibility of technology for students with disabilities, student data privacy, and differentiated learning pathways.

Framing the Evidence: Democratizing Ed Tech

This guest blog post was written by Doug Casey, Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology

Imagine a breakthrough therapy that promised to improve the condition of millions of children across the country. Access to the Doug Casey Boardtreatment would come through scientific, research-based trials in partnership with flagship research institutes. This may sound promising, but what if the trials were limited just to kids in large cities or wealthy suburbs? Children in small, poor, or rural areas were not eligible and would just have to wait for the treatment to become more widely available someday.

As state leaders, we see a similar inequity of access to research-based educational technology (ed tech) adoption. The time and resources necessary to pilot ed tech in meaningful ways — with proper design, measurement, fidelity of use, professional supports, etc. — have often been limited to large or wealthy districts. Most educators and school leaders without these supports often have to base product adoption decisions on vendor demos and websites, opinions from colleagues, and reviews from print and online trade publishers.

This should not be the case. Every district should have access to research-based pilots of high-quality ed tech solutions. For that reason, last fall we designed and launched the Framing the Evidence program to benefit — and take advantage of the unique strengths of — SETDA’s state and private sector partners.

Program Overview
Think of Framing the Evidence as an expert-guided matchmaking service, facilitating pilot design and delivery aligned with the needs of districts and our ed tech partners. SETDA facilitates such pairings in a way that individual state leaders cannot, given the potential conflict of interest that many of us face in working directly with third-party providers. Instead, our organization has created intake forms that ask district candidates to share — with no obligation to participate — their academic, socio-emotional, or operational needs by school, geographic location, student enrollment, and other criteria. In a parallel process, private sector partners submit information about their products and services as well as their target audiences and use cases.

From the dozens of requests that we have received so far, we can create data-driven, objective matches between school needs and vendor solutions. Potential pairings receive review by both parties before engaging in the development of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which governs the engagement. Designed to protect the interests of all parties, the MOU defines the commitment required of the pilot, including resources brought to bear — e.g., free software and professional development from vendors, staff time from districts — as well as other key contractual requirements. Aligned with the four tiers of evidence required by the U.S. Department of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Framing the Evidence pilots can range from relatively short-term to multi-year engagements. The latter might include researchers from local colleges and universities, who have interest in demonstrating what works in the learning sciences.

The design and mechanics of the program all point to a rich set of benefits for each of SETDA’s constituent groups:

  • SETDA State Members: Strengthened relationships with their local district leaders as well as SETDA private sector partners through objective matchmaking that does not present a conflict of interest
  • Private Sector Partners: Direct engagement with schools that leads to a body of evidence supporting the impact of their product(s) in a diversity of geographic, socio-economic, and cultural environments
  • Districts: Equity of access to research-based pilots, innovative technology, and professional development, leading to student gains and deeper return on investments in ed tech, all governed by an MOU that significantly reduces risk and exposure.

Get Started
We warmly invite all private sector partners and state leaders to learn more about the program on our Framing the Evidence web page. There you will find more detailed background information as well as recorded presentations tailored to SETDA private sector partners, state leaders, and schools.

Partners can get started — again, with no obligation to participate — by submitting the intake form at State leaders can share the opportunity with their district and school networks. To help in that effort, SETDA has professionally designed presentation decks and staff ready to help you spread the word. For districts ready to engage, have them complete the school intake form at

We look forward to hearing from you on this exciting new venture to bring the power and evidence of ed tech to every state, partner, and community that SETDA serves.

Doug Casey serves as the Executive Director for the Connecticut State Commission for Educational Technology (CET). In that role, he designs and manages strategic plans that help ensure the successful integration of technology in Connecticut’s schools, libraries, universities, and towns. The CET has direct oversight of statewide programs including the Connecticut Education Network (CEN, the state’s research and education network), its digital library (researchIT, formerly iCONN), and other initiatives.

New York's Mineola Middle School Celebrates Student Voices

This guest blog post was written by Mineola Middle School students Luke Martinez, Emma Powers, Joseph Parrino, Catherine Dinh, & Jordan Chaver.

Mineola Middle School Students and StaffMineola Middle School was awarded the chance of a lifetime when we got to present at this year’s SETDA Leadership Summit in Washington D.C., where we were honored to receive the 2019 SETDA Student Voice Award. Having been nominated and the recipient of the Student Voices Award was a great honor and a unique experience. It made us feel very grateful that we can go to school at such an amazing place that offers so many different experiences for everyone in our community. This award showed us that we really are lucky to be going to such a great school that truly deserved this award.

We are very thankful for the teachers and administrators for choosing us to be the student ambassadors. Representing the Mineola Middle School was a huge deal. Without this experience we wouldn’t have made the connections that we have made with others and also amongst ourselves.

Leading up to the big presentation was stressful and fun. We had both good and bad run-throughs. After we all got used to working together, we were on a roll, and grew together as a team. With the help of all the teachers in the making of this presentation, it definitely pushed us and motivated us. It was also fun to see how much our school does and how it helps our community. Some of the things in our presentation taught us was not to take what we have for granted. It also taught us that our school is unique.

Going on stage, we were confident because we designed the presentation how we like to learn; interactive and engaging. Our audience was very interested in what we had to say and it made us feel like we truly had a voice. If you want to see us in action, you can access the video archive of our presentation online.

Mineola Students at Washington MemorialA big highlight of our trip was our sightseeing adventures in Washington D.C. after we presented at the Student Voices forum. Riding the train through national landmarks, posing in front of the White House in Lafayette Square, walking by the huge US Treasury Department building, and finally arriving at the Washington Monument, a majestic column lit up against the clear night sky were all memories we cherish. The World War II Memorial, the illuminated fountain, the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool made great group photo-ops. On our final day, we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  We took turns experimenting with rotational momentum by spinning a wheel, saw Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit and walked through a Skylab Orbital Workshop. This was followed by a walk through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and by the FBI Headquarters. The lessons learned of the various monuments and the memories we created with our teachers and friends will remain with us forever. This experience was an interdisciplinary experience that changed our lives. We are all so lucky to have been a part of something like this and to have the opportunity to be a part of such a great school community. It was amazing and is something that none of us will ever forget.

SETDA Student Voices BadgeTo hear how the district and school implements powerful learning opportunities, visit this Webinar Archive, Empower Student Voices with Design Thinking with Mineola Superintendent of Schools, Michael P. Nagler, Ed.D., Principal and Mineola Middle School’s Andrew Cascale.

Nominations for the 2020 Student Voices Award will open in mid-February via SETDA’s Student Voices Award page. SETDA members and partners may nominate schools and districts. If you are interested in being nominated please contact your state’s SETDA team or an Affiliate connected to your state.

ATT Logo

Thank you to AT&T Aspire for underwriting the Student Voices 2018. AT&T invests in education and job training to create a skilled and diverse workforce that powers our country for the future. Technology is making it easier for everyone – regardless of age, gender, income or geography – to learn anytime, anywhere. Through the AT&T Aspire initiative, AT&T brings together the power of its network – its employees, its technology and organizations – to connect people to opportunities through education and job training. Since 2008, AT&T has committed $400 million to programs to help millions of students in all 50 states and around the world. Learn more at

Student Voices Award

East Grand: a Tiny School Doing Some Impressive Work

This guest blog post was written by East Grand’s Middle School Teacher, Jill Plummer in collaboration with students and staff. 

It would be an understatement to say that when our school, East Grand was recognized by SETDA as one of the five finalists for the 2019 Student Voices Award, our community was proud and excited. Donations poured in from the public to fund our trip. It was pretty amazing that our tiny little towns in Danforth and Weston, Maine could garner so much support from a population of 825 people. Four students, three teachers, and the principal of East Grand School traveled to Washington D.C. for the annual SETDA Leadership Summit

We could not have asked for a better experience for the students. At first they were hesitant about speaking to state representatives and important leaders in the field of education, but when they found their voices, they shared information about how technology and leadership skills are changing outcomes for students in our small corner of the state. Their confidence grew and allowed everyone to see what our staff sees in them.

The students that were asked to go on the trip were chosen based on the leadership they had shown amongst their peers in the project-based learning units and other community involvement activities we implemented during the previous year. When our students presented the information at the poster session about the great work we are doing around the Habits of Mind, 21st-century skills, the integration of technology, and preparation for the workforce, they proved to us that we had chosen well. The students were quite eloquent and many of the attendees at the conference commented on their ability to share their successes. Upon return, the students shared their experiences with their classmates and the staff and the local school board providing additional leadership opportunities.

Nathan, a 7th grader, reflected on his experience presenting: “Not many people get to do what I did in November. I got to go to Washington D.C. and present at a SETDA conference. I presented in front of lots of important people. After this conference I had more confidence. Presenting there showed me that I can talk in front of a lot of people, no problem. So many people complimented me, told me that we are different, and how great it was that we do things for our community.” After this experience, Nathan is much more willing to step out of his comfort zone and try new things.

Emma, a ninth grader, remembers when she spoke in one of the break-out sessions about feeling prepared for the world of work. She was taken aback at the reaction of the adults in the room. Emma reflected: “They were open to our (students’) ideas and they actually took my comments into consideration. Something I said was useful to them and I watched them use it right there.” Kids often don’t feel like they have a voice, but that day, Emma did.

Our students typically just don’t get a chance like this to travel, and share their experience and knowledge with others on a scale such as this. We live in a very rural, remote area of the state and it’s a big deal for some of our students to cross the state line, let alone visit a major metropolitan area with historical and cultural learning opportunities.

Another seventh grade boy, Lucas, realized that being chosen to go was a great privilege. He wanted to represent our school and do it justice. When reflecting on the events of the trip, he said, “In my mind, if I did a good job, I would be able to do more.” He saw that even though he was uncomfortable about being asked to talk to unfamiliar people about our school, next time it would be easier to do. You may access Lucas’ trip summary online.

Besides the experience of presenting, the group also visited several national monuments, the Holocaust Museum, Ford’s Theater, Arlington National Cemetery, and toured the Capitol Building. We were also lucky enough to meet with both of our senators who made our visit extremely memorable with photo opportunities and inspirational words for the students reassuring them that following their dreams is the best way to reach their goals. Every day we were there we returned to the hotel with sore feet and drooping eyelids, but that tired feeling was a good kind of tired.

Probably one of the most poignant thoughts was contributed by Madison, a ninth grade student, when she summed up her reaction to presenting to the conference participants. She said, “No matter where we went, people listened to what we said. They cared even though we were the runners up. I was shocked at how the adults that spoke to us were surprised at all that we are doing in our small school. It made me rethink what we do here. We are doing some good work, and that stuff matters.”

Needless to say, our students will never forget the trip nor the opportunity they had to share their knowledge and skills. All of us at East Grand thank SETDA for this experience. We are very grateful.

Student Voices AwardTo learn more, please visit SETDA’s Student Voices Award page. Nominations for the 2020 Student Voices Award will open in mid-February.  SETDA members and partners may nominate schools and districts. If you are interested in being nominated please contact your state’s SETDA team or an Affiliate connected to your state.



Take Flight to Accessibility with the AEM Pilot

AEM Pilot ImageThis is a guest post written by Cynthia Curry, Director of the AEM Center at CAST. SETDA continues an on-going partnership with CAST to support access to instructional materials and tools for all learners. 

The National AEM Center at CAST has enjoyed collaborating with SETDA on improving access digital materials and technologies for learners with disabilities in your states and districts. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), one of our primary roles is to provide technical assistance to states and districts on how to select, procure, create, and distribute accessible educational materials (AEM) and related technologies. Accessibility in this context means that learners with disabilities are afforded the same opportunity for independence, participation, and progress in the curriculum as learners without disabilities. A common misconception is that inaccessible materials can be efficiently retrofitted by special educators or that alternatives can be readily acquired through special education services. The reality is that many learners with disabilities, who are estimated to represent 11% of the student population, experience delays or even full barriers to learning when materials are selected without consideration for accessibility. The good news is that resources and tools are available to guide states and districts on accessibility best practices. One of these is the newly released AEM Pilot. Check out this AEM Pilot video to learn more.


About the Author

Photo Cynthia CurryCynthia Curry is Director of the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (AEM Center) and Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES). She is responsible for ensuring that the Centers meet their goals to increase the use of accessible educational materials and accessible technologies by learners with disabilities across preK-12, higher education, and workforce development. To that end, Cynthia collaborates with state leaders and AEM Center partners to lead the development of AEM and accessible technology provision systems.



The Value of Efficacy Research from Multiple Perspectives

Brainpop Boosts Achievement

This is a guest post written by Dr. Kari Stubbs, Vice President, Learning and Innovation at BrainPOP.  BrainPOP is a SETDA annual Gold Partner

BrainPOP was honored to partner with SETDA last month for a membership webinar on the value of efficacy research from multiple perspectives. Joining us for the conversation was Missy Greene (SETDA), DeLilah Collins (ESEA Office Assistant Director, Colorado Department of Education), Stan Silverman (NYIT Professor and Chair of NYS Teacher Center Technology Committee), and Kevin Miklasz (VP Data and Prototyping, BrainPOP). The webinar was anchored in SETDA’s leadership on the topic of ESSA evidence and why it matters. From there, the conversation explored BrainPOP’s commitment to offering evidence of its digital content as an exemplar for the industry. Finally, DeLilah Collins shared a look at Colorado’s work around evidence, and Stan Silverman promoted New York’s Teacher Center Technology Committee’s Model.

SETDA chose to point to BrainPOP’s efficacy study as an exemplar as it meets ESSA’s Moderate Evidence of Impact level. The study showed that students in schools with subscriptions to the award-winning educational platform performed better on standardized tests than those in non-subscribing schools! The study compared the performance of subscribers and non-subscribers using the results of statewide tests administered at the end of the 2015-16 school year, across five states (CA, CO, FL, NY, TX),  three subject areas (ELA, Math, Science), and grades 3-8. While many efficacy studies focus on a single district or state, BrainPOP’s prevalence made it possible to assess all five states, each with a different achievement test, in a single analysis. Get the full report and learn more at, you may also watch the archive of the webinar here.

About the Author

Headshot Kari StubbsRecognized by EdTech Digest as one of 100 top influencers in education technology, Dr. Kari Stubbs is experienced in a host of education topics through her experiences as an elementary educator, opportunities to learn alongside teachers and students around the globe, rigorous academic programming through her doctoral work, industry insight through her contributions at BrainPOP, and the opportunity to give back through a host of industry boards.

Dr. Stubbs has received the “Making It Happen” Award, the Presidential Community Service award, was recognized as “20 to Watch,” and Microsoft’s Education VP twice named her a Global Hero in Education. Kari earned her PhD in Curriculum with a minor in Administration from the University of Kansas.

Vermont Teachers Share Reflections from the Student Voices Experiences

This is a guest post written by Grace Borst, Innovation Specialist at St. Albans City School, Vermont. St. Albans City School was the 2018 Student Voices Award winner. 

November 4th was the first day of a unique and memorable experience for six students, two teachers, and one principal from St. Albans City School in Vermont. It was a whirlwind of a trip and after it was all over we all sat together to reflect on our takeaways, favorite parts, and what this trip meant to all of us. Molly, 6th grader, reflecting on the experience said, “No average 11 year old just goes to DC to present and accept an award on behalf of their school. I felt like the adults that were there were taking us seriously and really listened, they are professionals in this business and understood what we were talking about. It was a great experience, being a part of something bigger, flying on an airplane without our parents and speaking in front of professionals.”

While attending the SETDA conference, the students felt like rockstars. They were the only students and they could feel that but in a positive way. Nick, 4th grader, said, “I felt really special and rich with happiness!”. They were treated just like all of the other adults who were attending the conference, and that gave them an experience that isn’t afforded to many young students.  Marie, 5th grader, really enjoyed going to the reception the night we arrived. All of the students dressed up and chatted with all of the vendors, learning about new products and dragging the teachers around to see if we could get them at our school! Marie said, “We got to see new types of technology out there that we had never seen before”.

While on this trip, there were so many memorable experiences and firsts; airplane rides, trips on the metro, going to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and dinners out. But the things the students spoke most fondly and proudly about was representing their school at the SETDA conference. Gabriela,  2nd grader and the youngest to attend, spoke about what it was she took away from the trip, “Education isn’t always paperwork, it is knowing how you can help the world, why you should, what ways you can, and knowing how to do it. Representing our school gave us this opportunity to show that we can make a change and people can listen.”

Charlie, 5th grader,  got over his stage fright while on this trip, “This experience made me more confident. After talking in front of 200+ adults, it’s easier talking in front of my class now. That was something I was worried about before.” Charlie wasn’t the only one who left with more confidence, Molly said, “It gave me the confidence to know that if I went into a profession where I had to speak in front of a group, I would be more confident. It felt so good after we gave our big speech. It gave the adults the experience that kids can really know what they are talking about.”

Months later when I see the students in the hallway, they are still beaming and proud of their role.  As one of the teachers that helped them prepare in the months prior and watched them grow, and continue to grow after the trip was over, I am overflowing with pride and joy for these students. This experience showed our students that they can make a difference, their voice matters and that what their school is doing everyday is special, and it matters.

To learn more visit:

Thank you to AT&T Aspire for underwriting the Student Voices 2018 and 2019. ATT Logo


The 2019 Student Voices application is now open through May 10. Contact your state’s SETDA member if you would like to be considered. For more details email Christine Fox.

Operation Bee Snapshot

Student Voices Heard in Washington DC – Operation Bee "Abuzz"

It is time for the 2018 SETDA’s Student Voice Award Nominations. SETDA Members have the opportunity to nominate a school or district for the change to win a trip to Washington, DC and participate in SETDA’s annual Leadership Summit. If you know of a fantastic school or district that is well deserving of this award for innovative, digital learning opportunities, contact your state’s SETDA Member or email Christine Fox. Below is a guest blog post, providing a summary of the award, presentation and time in Washington, DC from the student perspective.

ATT Logo2018 Underwriting:Thank you to AT&T Aspire for underwriting the Student Voices 2018.


This guest blog post was provided by the 2017 Student Voices winners representing Mountain Heights Academy in Utah including Donna Trane, Kyana Trane, Kate Larson and Emma Davis.

Our Operation Bee team from Mountain Heights Academy, headed to the country’s capital on a crisp October morning in 2017. Two of us hadn’t been on a plane before and we were slightly terrified, but mostly excited. “It was quite the experience! I never thought I would be flying on a plane to Washington DC, but I did and it was amazing. I had never flown before but that made it even more fun!” shared Donna Trane.

The night before our presentation, we got a little nervous so we spent a couple of hours prepping and going over our parts with our teachers. The next day Donna remembers getting to the Gaylord Hotel and thinking, “Oh, boy!” She was blown away by the beauty of the convention center.

We got to hear some really interesting panelists talk about innovation, technology, and rural education. Two of us live in rural Utah so this was super interesting and we have definitely benefited from online education! Right before our presentation we starting handing out our lab manuals and seed packets for Operation Bee which made us a lot less nervous. Kate Larson noted, “The audience was so encouraging! It was fun to get them engaged by walking around and passing out our bags and project manuals. I still can’t get over the fact that we all did that!” The actual presentation was fantastic and we just forgot to be nervous because it was so much fun.

Emma decided, “I definitely became more confident presenting in front of a big crowd.” Donna shared that, “the best experience I had was being able to present with my team and represent my amazing school. Thank you so much SETDA for the wonderful experiences and possibilities you gave us.”

We spent a couple of days seeing all of the amazing things DC has to offer, like the Smithsonian Museums, Ford’s Theater, all the monuments, and the Capitol where we met with Congresswoman Mia Love who told us we have the obligation, not just the option, of changing the world.

Emma Davis concluded, “It was such an amazing experience! I’d been to DC before, but I got to see more of the monuments and museums and that gave me ideas on what career to choose when I get older.” Kyana Trane stated, “If you guys told me a year ago that I was going to D.C. I don’t think I would have believed you. Standing in historic places and learning more about our country was amazing, and I would hands down love to come back to learn and see more.”

Donna summed up the experience nicely, “Being able to present about Mountain Heights Academy was an amazing privilege, and it was great to learn about the many things going on to improve student learning.” We all agree with Kate, “I will never forget my time spent there.”

Thank you SETDA for this life-changing experience. We highly recommend it for all students interested in using technology to improve education and change the world.

View the Mountain Heights Academy Student Voices presentation here.

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