Pilot adds technology, tutors to classrooms

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Nettleton Primary School third-grade teacher Kelly Blake said her students have become more attentive during the past month.
Blake is one of 24 educators participating in a pilot project that provides them with a technology package and a high school student tutor in their third- to sixth-grade classroom.
On Friday, those teachers and peer tutors attended training at Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center designed to help them to get more out of the program.
“The biggest difference I’ve noticed is interaction,” Blake said. “The students are excited about learning.”
The $112,000 project was paid for through the Appalachian Regional Commission, Three Rivers Planning and Development District and the educational technology company eInstruction. It is being piloted in the eight school districts in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.
In January, the participating teachers received an interactive white board, a portable touch-screen device that displays text on the board and a set of student-response clickers.
The pupils can use the clickers to answer questions posed on the white board, allowing teachers to get an instant snapshot of which students understand a given concept without students knowing how their classmates answered.
“I like the idea kids are held accountable,” said Amy Crane, who teaches sixth-grade reading at Baldwyn Middle School. “If you had some kids dozing off, they can’t now because they have clickers, and you know if they haven’t answered.”
Friday’s training featured two representatives of eInstruction, which provided the equipment, to discuss problems teachers had encountered and ways they could best use their technology. Members of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Educational Research and Evaluation spoke of how they will evaluate the program’s effectiveness, and a retired art teacher modeled a lesson using the technology. The teachers also were able to model lessons for each other.
The program also includes the peer tutors who work with an elementary school classroom one hour per day for four days each week. They are paid $100 every two weeks.
They’re used in a variety of ways, from helping the students struggling with a concept, to working with the technology, to assisting a small-group lesson. Shannon High School senior Dashai Kennedy and Pontotoc High School senior Leah Rayburn said they also can serve as role models because they can connect more easily with the students.
“For me, the best part is getting to know the kids,” said Mallory Mahon, a senior at East Union. “Getting to know them will make your day. At the end of the day, you can go home and say, ‘I really made a difference.’”
The goal is to expand the program if it is shown to positively impact student test scores, said Roger Browning, program director for the WIA Division at Three Rivers.
“This is the world every child in Northeast Mississippi needs to be living in,” Browning said. “We are behind. We need this in every classroom.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com