BAY COUNTY — Bay District Schools officials are reporting early success with their recent push to replace nearly 10-year-old technology in every classroom by 2025.
During a Bay District School Board workshop in March, it was announced that part of the half-cent sales tax would go toward a three-phase technology refresh in the school system. These upgrades include an Interactive Viewsonic Board with a PC module, wireless keyboards, and mouse, document cameras, rolling podiums, webcams, teacher desktops, and monitors.
The system’s last major installs were completed in 2012. Due to the constantly changing technology landscape, BDS officials noticed the increase in help tickets and said they believed that it was not cost-effective to keep the older models.
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With the recent pandemic dramatically changing the classroom setting, BDS Supervisor for Instructional Technology & Media Services Rhonda Sumpter said they made these changes with virtual and hybrid learning in mind.
“One of the reasons we picked the equipment or technology that we did was in response, not just to the aging, but what’s going to help us in case we had to go back to a type of distanced learning,” Sumpter said. “A lot more portability, a lot of where you can be spaced out and not tied to a certain area.”
Since the initial meeting, the district has already implemented or started the process to implement the technology into nine schools in Bay County. The cost for these first sets of schools is approximately $2.8 million.
Bay County schools benefit from tech
One of the schools that completed its technology install as recently as November was Deane Bozeman School, which serves Pre-K through 12th grade. Located on the northern corridor of Panama City, faculty and students have already begun to see the benefits from the upgraded technology.
Jeannie Williams, an English and Language Arts teacher for the Bozeman high school students, said her students previously had to basically learn in the dark.
With the old smartboards in her room, Williams said they were very dim and difficult for her students to use at once.
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Ryan Slaughter, a junior at Bozeman and a student of Williams, said the old technology in Williams had quite some problems and sometimes affected his schoolwork.
“Sometimes you’d have to recalibrate it, sometimes it wouldn’t work, or it was hard to see with the lights on,” Slaughter said. “[The new technology] is a lot better because you can see with the lights on, you don’t have to recalibrate a separate computer.”
Now when Williams comes into work, she said she can open get everything she needs opened on her computer in the morning on their well-lit, interactive boards and then “boom,” she can easily switch between her tabs, show students’ work directly on the screen and foster collaboration within the classroom in a way she never could before.
And all while never leaving her new beloved moving podium.
“I’ve been teaching for 30 years, this is the best thing I have ever received as a teacher,” Williams said.
Tech improves teaching
Williams said this innovative technology, especially the new Viewsonic board, has made such an impact in her classroom and their lessons.
“What this is able to do for me, when they were all typing this in, I was able to assess them immediately and they could also see each other’s typed out and on the board,” Williams said. “We have a plan to be able to, I believe, I can go on here and use the camera and be here with a teacher in another classroom.”
Alana Jaramillo, one of Williams’s junior English students, says this new smartboard is already a million times better than what they had before, despite it being just a simple change. Something as simple as a chart could not be done as easily on the whiteboard, she said.
“I think it really helps that it’s easy to have something that’s productive,” Jaramillo said. “I could be sitting in the back of the classroom and just look up and Garrett’s answers are there and it’s easy for me to be able to collaborate without making a big fuss across the classroom or have to text him.”
Garrett Jenson, a senior at Bozeman, said his experience with the refresh has been a positive one so far and he, like Jaramillo and Slaughter, notices how much easier it is to use than the previous smartboards.
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Jenson also said he is happy to see his teachers, like Williams, benefit from the updated items.
“The teachers are all overwhelmed, happy, joyous,” Jenson said. “They’re just excited they don’t have to struggle with the technology to get their points through, their education actually means something now.”
Williams said the technology was extremely easy to learn, with the English department even coming together watching YouTube videos to get acquainted with it.
“For an old dog like me, this new trick has not been hard at all,” Williams said. “I’ve really been excited about it, I’ve been learning from my students and they’ve been learning from me.”
Harmony Kent, a senior at Bozeman, said she noticed there had not been much investment in modern technology, so she is excited to see her school reinvest in their student’s education.
“It feels really nice that they care so much about education because technology is a really major part of our society now,” Kent said. “We need technology to function. So, now that they have brought in this up-to-date stuff, it’s keeping students in the right mindset
Sumpter said this refresh would not have been possible without the support of the community and for voting in the half-cent sales tax. Sumpter said this refresh has been an interdepartmental effort between various facilities in the Bay District Schools.
“It has really made everything, the communication, and the working together, the efforts have made this a success up to this point,” Sumpter said. “ We’re really excited.”