Guest Blog post by Jeremiah Okal-Frink, PhD, Senior Education Strategist – Dell Technologies
We have all witnessed the pressure that had been building within our education system to transform the way we prepare students for a drastically different future erupt over the past few years. What was once merely digital opportunities for students have shifted to digital essentials that are prerequisites for their future in an increasingly sophisticated world.
As Julia Fallon in her post about Digital Equity already articulated, the need to address this gap was known and being addressed prior to March 2020. However, it was the rapid increase in digitally-enabled teaching and learning that centered the conversation that has been an ongoing struggle for district, regional and state leaders for years: How do we ensure that all students have access to the learning resources and experiences they need as these become more digital?
This is the conversation that precipitated the joint project between Dell Technologies and SETDA focused on Digital Equity data. Beginning in December 2020, Dell and SETDA began a project that culminated with a recently released report that involved four phases to advance our collective understanding of student access. We know that there are inequities throughout the system and we saw the need to better understand the specifics to address inequity at a national scale.
Phase 1: Identify what data is available
If one does a quick internet search, you will find statistics that suggest we have comprehensive data about student connectivity. When digging deeper into these reports, there are many questions left unanswered with a mix of different and sometimes conflicting information.
The project launched with focus groups, conversations with State leaders and other national organizations, through which we confirmed there is a lack of consistent data elements, collection processes and access to data needed for decision-making.
We recognized the importance of developing a better understanding of what data was even available for state leaders.
Phase 2: Survey of current and planned data capture
Following those initial conversations, SETDA connected with other projects already in motion. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) had already released recommended data elements to begin this needed standardization. Working with this standard, the SETDA and Dell project team worked with a subgroup of SETDA membership to develop a survey that was distributed to the SETDA membership. The survey focused on three areas of inquiry to better understand what data was available to state leadership:
- Data collection: What data have you collected and do you plan to collect?
- Standardization: Are you aligning your collection to the CCSSO recommendations? What are the reasons if not?
- Concerns and recommendations: What barriers and concerns are in the way of data collection? What is needed to have more meaningful data?
Phase 3: Results analyze survey data and identify recommendations
As often happens with this type of data collection, it was not the what of the data, but what was revealed in terms of the why that is most compelling for making change. We already knew that the equitable access data collection is varied in both process and type across states. What was helpful was the identification of why there is such variation.
Data Collection Findings: Hampered by legislative, regulatory or capacity restrictions 25% of the responding states are not able to even begin a plan for collection.
Standardization: Adopting standards such as the CCSSO data elements face two challenges; some states are seeking longitudinal data including pre-pandemic surveys preventing them from switching data collection methods and others are seeking more detailed data fields not included with the CCSSO recommendations.
Phase 4: Advocate for change
When looking at surveys, data and reports we can lose sight of what this represents: Students who can not access the learning resources they need to be successful. We, as leaders, must develop a plan to eliminate inequity of access. This report revealed our current understanding of the full scope of the problem. Across those who participated and reviewed the survey there were some identified ways we can be advocates for change:
- Setting the standard of measurement allows us to track if we are improving and helping create a country where there is opportunity for all
- Develop awareness and advocacy resources to inform those leaders who can remove current barriers.
- Review and update the standardization of the data elements and processes for collection.
- Identify data integration models that use multiple data sets for addressing the root problems.
- Be public with your data sets to inform and gain greater buy-in from the larger community to spur change.
- Develop a long-term plan for a national process and reporting.
In some ways, what came out of the process is not a surprise for those who have worked in education. However, just as the pandemic placed a spotlight on the issue of Digital Equity, this report helps to spotlight areas that need to be addressed if we are to succeed in both responsibly leveraging the current federal funding and developing sustainable change of the system. It is the hope and expectation that as organizations join together with partners like SETDA, together we can provide relevant and meaningful learning opportunities to ALL students.
Guest Blog post by Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, CEO and Founder of Digital Respons-Ability, a research-based provider of digital citizenship education. Digital Respons-Ability provides digital citizenship and parenting classes to schools and organizations. Carrie is the author of Becoming a Digital Parent: A Practical Guide to Help Families Navigate Technology and the soon to be published title The 3Ms of Fearless Digital Parenting: Proven Tools to Help You Raise Smart & Savvy Online Kids
Educators recognize the importance of digital citizenship, the ethical and responsible use of technology. But how can we effectively teach it? How can we go beyond basic understanding to actual practice? How can we actually change digital behavior?
These are big questions, ones that educators, doctors, parents, politicians and many others ask.
People are complicated, and the reasons for our behavior are multi-faceted. We may behave one way because we’re tired, there’s bad weather, we watched a scary movie, we’re hungry or some random occurrence. As much as we like to believe that we are rational creatures who thoughtfully make decisions based on the evidence—we’re guided by many biological and situational factors.
Despite science understanding that humans are variable and multiple factors influencing our behavior—we act as if we are simple machines. We think that if we push the right lever we’ll get the same output every time. We use slogans, New Year’s resolutions, hashtags, memes, entertaining talks and other strategies to change other’s behavior. A teacher may think, “well we’ve gone over this in class” and consider the matter done.
I wish it was simple, that just by conveying knowledge about digital behavior would make that change. But, as much willpower as we think we have, all those forces—the weather, our bodies, media etc. influence our behaviors. It’s like pushing against a wave. You can make some incremental progress, but at any point the ocean may throw a big one your way and knock you way back.
So how do we change our behavior? How do we push through those waves? The answer is skills. If we know how to swim we can make more progress through the ocean. If we have other social emotional skills like self-regulation, self-efficacy, emotional awareness and critical thinking we can also stick to our goals through all other life’s influences.
From my and Digital Respons-Ability’s work with tens of thousands of students and parents we’ve honed down some top skills, those social emotional learning skills. We still have lots to learn, but this is what we’ve discovered.
- Ability to transition- The internet throws a lot at us. If we cannot shift our focus and ignore distractions we can get thrown off by the tide.
- Self-efficacy- Research that has found that people who have high self-efficacy are more likely to view hard tasks as something to be mastered, rather than avoided. Those individuals who possess self-efficacy do not self-blame.
- Critical thinking- Students are deluged with information and the ability to evaluate all that media in an unbiased manner is crucial to be both media literate and a digital citizen.
- Digital Empathy- When online we are continually interacting with strangers and don’t have the context of their life story, gestures, nonverbal cues and more to make decisions. Digital empathy assumes best intent as well as understanding that others online may respond and feel differently to the same media we consume.
- Self-regulation- In my opinion this is the most important of the 5 SEL skills listed. The ability to monitor moods, stimuli and create healthy boundaries is essential to be a digital citizenship.
The internet is full of waves that can toss us side to side. But when we teach digital citizenship we just focus on the waves—the height of them (“here’s this internet danger!”) or the composition of them (“look at all these things online!”) rather than something that actually help (“here’s how to swim”). To change behavior, we have to develop the skills to change our behavior. Let’s work together to build skills, to build strength, and help students swim on their own.
Catch Carrie’s recent SETDA webinar titled “Maximizing 2021 ESSER Funding to Prioritize Social Emotional Learning and Digital Citizenship.”
This guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Shannon Buerk, CEO, engage2learn, and focuses on the immediate and long-term high-value activities to address learning loss. We can turn the current challenges into an opportunity to accelerate learning using a proven 3-step process for closing achievement gaps and supporting educators with the right systems.
Every ed leader I talk to is beyond weary with the never-ending challenges of a shifting landscape in this highly-irregular, pandemic-driven ‘20-’21 school year. The Herculean and persistent efforts of educators everywhere are so impressive, yet, despite these efforts, the data from grades, mid-year assessments, etc., is showing there is unbelievable learning loss happening across the board.
Districts are reporting high failure rates and 30 to 75 percent learning loss, which is stacked on top of the losses from last spring where we saw the slide start, as the graph below indicates. RAND surveys, conducted by American Educator Panels (AEP) in October 2020, found “on average, teachers reported being able to contact only four out of every five students. Only 59% of teachers reported assigning letter grades during fall 2020.” The survey also stated that “principals in the highest-poverty schools reported that, on average, only 80% of their students had adequate internet access at home.” It’s clear the remote learning environment has exacerbated inequities in educational access and outcomes over the last several months as students without supervision have fallen farther behind. Furthermore, the long-term impact as a result of school closures could take years to recover from, according to a study conducted by The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. To make up for what looks to be 18 months of limited or outright lost learning time, educators have to find the most efficient and effective path to accelerating learning for every student.
Click her to view the entire blog post
This guest blog post was written by SETDA partner, Monica Cougan, Product Marketing Manager, ENA
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 all 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.
This 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.
UPD Consulting is a SETDA Emerging Partner, to learn about SETDA’s Emerging Partner Program.
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:
- 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;
- providing for a statewide learning platform to enable teacher-led instruction, learning progression, and parent engagement; and
- 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 (www.d2l.com). 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.
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 treatment 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.
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.
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 www.bitly.com/PSP_FtE. 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 www.bitly.com/EdTechEvidence.
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.
This guest blog post was written by Mineola Middle School students Luke Martinez, Emma Powers, Joseph Parrino, Catherine Dinh, & Jordan Chaver.
Mineola 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.
A 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.
To 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.
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 att.com/aspire.
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.
To 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.
This 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
Cynthia 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.