By Mari Angulo for her Techie Corner in Tumbleweeds: The Quarterly Newspaper for Santa Fe Families
‘Tis the season for parents to brave the crowded store aisles, tax-free shopping days and school supply madness to ensure their child is prepared for the new school year. Everybody knows about notebooks and No. 2 pencils, but these days, children’s readiness for school also involves technology. In this fast-changing realm, it can be difficult for parents to keep an up-to-speed supply sheet and to-do list. Three Santa Fe Public School staff members explained that a “back-to-school technology plan” is actually more important for parents than it is for students.
What do students need, and at what age? At what point are they expected to have computers or access to the Internet at home? What resources do parents need to remain in the loop about their child’s education? How do families get information about programs for homework or online research?
What Technology? Where and When?
Ana Raquel Plaza, literacy and data coordinator at Sweeney Elementary and a former third-grade teacher in Santa Fe Public Schools, noted that students have access to computers in the classroom for research and educational games. They may read books on computers and even take quizzes online. Additionally, they have a weekly computer class that addresses different skills depending on their grade. In third grade, for example, students learn to type and how to look for “good” information to be used in their research projects.
At the elementary level, Plaza explained, the use of computers stays in the classroom: “Homework is still traditional and expected to be done in note- books.” As children move up through they grades, they can continue to expect computers to be available for their use at school. By middle and high school, when students are required to do more independent work, having a computer at home is convenient but not mandatory. Without one, the student will have to go to the library after school or come in early to complete assignments that are expected to be done overnight.
Since so many children have computers at home, even in grade school, Plaza believes that parents should “monitor their children and get them access to educational programs and not just ‘fun’ games.” These might include reading programs that highlight words as they say them aloud for the child. Plaza added that since “kids [now] seem to be less motivated to pick up a book and read, the hook to get them reading is to give them access to those types of programs. Shiny technology motivates them to read.” is type of program is particularly valuable for children with special needs, she said, as technology can offer an enhanced visual and auditory learning experience for children challenged by reading.
Raising Tech-Savvy Parents
Tips and recommendations such as Plaza’s are invaluable to parents, but the school district realizes the challenges teachers face in passing on this information. As another means
to enhance communication and support student achievement, the school district last year created the SFPS Parent Academy.
The Academy offers free classes that equip families with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to help students along the path to college and career success and that promote collaboration and community-building among parents and schools. Some classes are specific to the child’s grade; others have a broader scope. Some address technology and computer use. The Academy offers English classes for those whose language is primarily Spanish. Childcare is available, and all classes are bilingual.
Santiago Sanchez, a computer teacher for the Parent Academy and bilingual teacher for grades K through 8, explained: “Sometimes parents have good intentions, but they don’t know how to help their child use available resources in effective ways.” This past spring, the Academy held a pilot computer class to teach parents how to use and navigate the Internet, send email and perform other basic functions. One emphasis of the training is that parents are encouraged to communicate with teachers and principals online. “One of the first things
parents learned is how to create their own email address,” Sanchez said. The computer class will be offered again in the fall. Interested parents can call 467-2059 to register.
Online, In The Loop
For kids, new technology is generally more ex- citing than intimidating. Raelynn Lujan, who has worked at SFPS for nine years, said, “Incoming kindergartners are already computer savvy. They know how to pull up the Internet and type in a web address, without even knowing how to write their own name.” This is why it has become so important for parents to maintain their techno- logical know-how. “We work really hard to convey the idea that technology is an important part of education,” she said.
Lujan, who still registers students the old-fashioned way in a teacher’s roll book, noted that parents can now register their kids online on the Santa Fe Public Schools website (www.sfps.info). Registration is not the only thing parents can do online. In the “Student & Parents” section of the website, families can find school supply lists, bus registration forms and routes, district calendars, dress codes, safety policies, literacy resources and more.
Plaza, Lujan and Sanchez all recommended PowerSchool, an online tool that SFPS uses to keep parents informed about their child’s performance and to provide easy communication between teachers and parents. Parents can sign up for PowerSchool at sfps.powerschool.com and see their child’s attendance, assignments and even grades, instantly.
Advances in technology can be fast-paced and intimidating, but with all the tools that technology offers parents for being involved in their child’s education, parents should do their best to stay abreast of the changes. Given the undeniable role of technology in children’s education, “It is mandatory [for parents] to become more con dent in making use of it,” Sanchez said.
Lujan added, “[Technology is] the way of our future, and we try to set our students up to be ready for that future.”
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