(TNS) -- NAPLES — Equipment to introduce elementary school children to coding and computer programming is included in the Naples Central School District's Smart Schools Investment Plan recently approved by the state Smart Schools Review Board.
Technology purchases include a Lego EV3 set, the coding programming component; along with a Padcaster to film various projects, events and programs; a large screen monitor; and a 3-D printer.
"When we look at the job market, coding is a skill kids are going to need," said Superintendent Matt Frahm. "We want to make sure at a young age, our kids are exposed to coding and have the ability to take computer programming right up through high school."
He said the world has changed and that it's important to recognize children learn differently today, something we wants reflected in the district's classrooms.
"We want to make sure the instruction we provide in Naples is really getting our kids ready for success in the world outside of school," Frahm said.
The instructional technology piece represents $14,100 of the overall $378,100 approved expenditures, which also include $84,500 for improved wireless connectivity and $279,500 for high-tech security. That still leaves $238,662 in the district's total bond allocation of $616,762 from the statewide $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act, approved by voters in 2014.
Naples' plan was among 154 in the fifth round of approvals announced by the state to help close what it calls the digital divide and equip students with technological skills needed to succeed in the modern economy.
The security portion of the proposal includes upgrading security-camera software and upgrading or buying new cameras to cover blind spots within the district, provide better quality visuals and improve night viewing; and adding card access to various entry points at the elementary and high schools.
The district also plans to replace its current wireless access points with state-of-the-art equipment that will not only improve wireless access throughout the 118-square mile district, but allow for future growth.
The Smart Schools funding supplements a plan begun in the district four years ago to grow a one-to-one device program to supply computers — iPads and Chromebooks — for its more than 700 students and 180 teachers and staff members.
"We wanted to include that in our regular operating budget because we know we're going to have to buy that every year," Frahm said. "Even before the Smart Schools Bond Act, we've been really focusing on making sure our students have the skills and opportunities needed for success in the world around them. The Smart Schools Bond Act gives us a way to support 21st century learning in Naples."
As the district was building up its technological capabilities, Frahm said staff became more aware of how the increased capabilities could help students communicate and create new and interesting things, but also realized there are potential pitfalls in cyberspace.
He likes to quote journalist Thomas Friedman, author of a New York Times op-ed piece, "Online and Scared," who points out "We're all connected, but no one's in charge."
"For years, we've been talking about helping to shape positive citizens in our communities," Frahm said. "In this cyberworld, we sometimes don't have the rules or norms that might come when you're living in a town or a city. We are really quick when talking with kids about what they shouldn't do and don't spend enough time on what they should do."
Frahm said kids can make some pretty important mistakes online and it became clear staff needed to work with them to use the devices properly in a positive way and not for bullying or posting inappropriate comments or photos on social media. He said the Smart Schools Bond Act does not include funding for professional development, so he wrote to state Sen. Rich Funke, R-Perinton, who came through with $25,000 in bullet aid, or discretionary funding targeted toward education.
Anneke Radin-Snaith, technology staff developer, contacted Common Sense, a California-based nonprofit organization offering a comprehensive program to empower students to think critically, behave safely and participate responsibly in the digital world.
A Common Sense facilitator from New Jersey visited the district Tuesday to work with 15 teachers and administrators — including Midlakes Intermediate School Principal Chris Moyer and Lydia Schadler, Midlakes director of instructional technology, who accepted an invitation to attend.
"This isn't something that just Naples is facing," Frahm said. "This is something that kids across the country are having to think about."
Radin-Snaith said the group talked about the meaning of digital citizenship and reviewed statistics on the amount of time tweens and teens spend in front of a computer screen, whether it's a smartphone, tablet, laptop or other device.
Frahm said the participants are putting together materials and a plan for fellow staff members to start using in classrooms and discussions with each other and parents. The idea is to weave what they learned into each grade to help shape positive citizens who communicate in a positive, respectful way.
Radin-Snaith said the district has done a nice job modeling its twitter hashtag (#naplescsd), which has been picked up by people throughout the district, students and teachers alike.
Another example of the positive use of technology was a fundraiser to fight hunger the whole seventh-grade class organized last year in a learning project that began with a focus on the United Nations' sustainability goals. After watching the documentary, "Living on One Dollar," about four friends living in impoverished rural Guatemala for two months on $1 a day to get a feel for how one billion people in the world survive on just that, the students selected hunger awareness for their project and raised about $1,000.
"The kids tweeted about it and the producer responded," said Radin-Snaith, referring to Chris Temple. "I think that makes the content of the documentary that much more meaningful to them."
Frahm said more and more colleges and employers are checking social media sites of applicants and he wants Naples kids to highlight the positive programs they've been working on. He said he does not want colleges and prospective employers to find harassing, disrespectful social media posts or inappropriate photos.
"We want to make sure our kids don't have any doors closed on them before or after they leave us," Frahm said. "It's really important that we have these conversations when it is appropriate and when it is impactful."
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