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.
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Thank you to AT&T Aspire for underwriting the Student Voices 2018 and 2019.
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.
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.
2018 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.
Guest Post from Cynthia Curry, Co-Director of the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (AEM Center)
What do you get when you combine a state educational technology director with a state accessibility expert? A partnership that results in students having digital materials and technologies that are usable for learning across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format or features. According to the Office for Civil Rights, accessibility means that a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. Accessibility professionals not only know technical standards such as WCAG 2.0 AA and Section 508; they know how users with varied abilities interact with technology for learning. This expertise compliments the procurement decision making process in ways that make the difference between equal learning opportunities with technology…and not. To see such a partnership, look no further than how SETDA and the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (AEM Center) are working together to ensure that (1) accessibility is embedded in states’ technology procurement policies and practices and (2) developers of emerging and existing technologies are provided accessibility guidance.
The AEM Center, a federally funded project at CAST, is charged with building the capacity of a wide range of stakeholders, including state and local education agencies, to increase the availability and use of high-quality accessible educational materials and accessible technologies. We provide tiered technical assistance to all stakeholders, with our most in-depth assistance directed to eight states that make up the AEM Best Practices Cohort, including Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas. With additional support from SETDA, these states are developing accessibility policies and practices that can be scaled to other states. One highlight is the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), which has made accessibility a core component of its procurement policy by requiring that publishers’ electronic information materials be compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA and Section 508 accessibility standards. Information about Texas’s accessibility policy and practices, as well as those of all states, is included in SETDA’s seminal online database, Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States.
The procurement of accessible digital materials and technologies would not be possible without innovative edtech developers making them available, and the SETDA-AEM Center partnership is making a difference by providing guidance to SETDA’s Private Sector Partners, thereby increasing market availability of accessible products. Events like SETDA’s annual Emerging Technologies Leadership Forum bring AEM Center staff and the private sector together for meaningful dialog about the essentialness of accessibility. Recently, AEM Center Co-Director, Skip Stahl, presented on accessibility for SETDA’s Private Sector Partners.The recording is available: Accessibility Expectations in the EdTech Marketplace: Designing for All Learners.
The SETDA-AEM Center partnership is publicly sealed in Navigating the Digital Shift II: Implementing Digital Instructional Materials for Learning, in which “Accessibility for All Students” is highlighted as a next step for consideration as education leaders continue to advance living and learning in the digital age. The report refers readers to the AEM Center for technical assistance and we welcome your requests.
Several of the AEM Best Practices Cohort states will be represented at the 2017 Leadership Summit & Education Forum via ed tech – accessibility expert teams to engage in meaningful dialog. In the meantime, SETDA and the AEM Center will scheme our next ed tech-accessibility campaign to continue ensuring that learner variability is a fundamental consideration in procurement guidance and policies. To learn about what you can do to advance accessibility of digital materials and technologies for the learners in your state, consider reaching out to your AEM State Contact.
About the Author
Cynthia Curry is Co-Director of the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (AEM Center), a U.S. Department of Education funded project at CAST. She is responsible for ensuring that the Center meets its goal to increase the use of accessible educational materials and accessible technologies by learners with disabilities across PreK, K-12, higher education, and workforce development. She collaborates with state leaders and AEM Center partners to lead the development of AEM and accessible technology provision systems across the country. During her two-decade career in education, beginning as a middle school science teacher, she has worked across K-12 schools, universities, non-profit organizations, and state agencies to improve outcomes for learners with disabilities. Contact information: email@example.com or via Twitter @clcurry