The infusion of technology that came to Rochelle Middle School with a select grant from Apple has changed the way students at the Kinston school learn and helped them achieve dramatic academic growth, Rochelle’s principal and teachers told a team from Apple on Monday.
In October 2014, Rochelle was chosen as one of 114 schools in the nation and one of only two in North Carolina to receive an Apple ConnectEd grant. All LCPS schools are wired, all students and faculty are provided Apple devices and digital learning is stressed across the district, but Rochelle’s place in that program of technology-driven teaching and learning is unique because of its success with the ConnectEd grant.
Valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, the grant provided the school with a new digital network, an array of Apple devices, including iPads for students and iPads and MacBook laptops for all teacher and administrators, gigabytes of instructional software and extensive support for teachers.
The Apple era at Rochelle essentially began in February 2015, with the digital infrastructure in place and the devices distributed to students and teachers. The State of Schools gathering at Rochelle on Monday gave the school’s staff a chance to report to three members of Apple’s ConnectEd team on the use and impact of the technology in the months since.
“It’s a good opportunity to refresh our partnership,” Rochelle principal Felicia Solomon said to open the meeting, which was also attended by LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams and other district administrators.
“We’re here to help you grow,” said Cathleen Richardson, development executive with the ConnectEd team, who accompanied project manager Steve Lieb and project engineer Adam Girardi to Kinston. “We want to chart a path together.”
Rochelle has not so much taken a new direction thanks to the technology but has entered a new dimension, according to the report given the Apple team by Hannah Jimenez, Rochelle digital learning specialist and head of its Apple Leadership Team.
“We’re changing what learning looks like,” Jimenez said.
In a report built around five characteristics Apple considers a gauge of successful digital learning, Jimenez offered examples of increased student engagement, their heightened interest in science and technology and greater opportunities for creativity on the part of teachers – all a result of having the Apple devices, having the services of an Apple Professional Learning Coach assigned to the school as part of the grant and having the buy-in of teachers.
“One of the things we’ve been really strong about is our teachers teaching teachers,” Jimenez said.
Among the staff are several standouts in the area of digital learning. Two of the faculty – eighth-grade science teacher Crystal Bryant and media specialist Brenda Moultrie – account for three of just a handful of model digital lessons highlighted in “Elements of Learning,” a book just published by Apple.
Solomon, in her first year as principal at Rochelle, said she’s been struck by innovative teaching styles, particularly the use of student-produced videos to drive home lessons – videos often shot outside the classroom. “Students aren’t stuck between four walls,” she said.
Students’ enthusiasm for entering the county science fair and competing in Science Olympiad events has jumped, according to Jimenez. “Many of our students have fallen in love with coding and logical problem solving,” she said.
Jimenez advises a Technology Club, where students work with the Spiro robots that came with the grant, and Rochelle has a new chapter of the Technology Student Association.
“We’d like to think that one of the big things about technology is that we actually exceeded expected growth last year on our state tests,” Jimenez said.
Overall student proficiency increased by seven percentage points last year, according to state accountability results, and nearly 60 percent of eighth graders tested as proficient in science.
“There are just a lot of amazing things going on here,” Apple’s Richardson told the Rochelle group, “and we just wanted to let you know that we see you.”