The inaugural 1Dawson Learning Academy reconvened at the Professional Development Center On Sept. 18 for the second day of presentations where those in attendance learned about teaching instruction, technology and services offered to students to help them achieve the ultimate goal of graduation.
“We’ve done a lot over the last couple years to really work towards providing our students with the best opportunities and choices as they go through our school system and get ready to graduate,” said Nicole LeCave, executive director of Teaching and Learning.
Some of the changes in the school system over the last three years have been introducing dual enrollment and post-secondary opportunities as well as targeting kindergarten through second grade students to provide a strong foundation as they continue their path to graduation.
The perception that graduation is achieved in one linear way and that the end goal is going to a four-year college was also overhauled as LeCave explained the expansions of online courses, high school credit for eighth graders, Advanced Placement courses, the benefit of the nontraditional Hightower campus and credit recovery for struggling freshman so that they can still graduate with their classmates.
Technology was also a big focus of the second day of the academy as LeCave and Executive Director of Technology Roman Gaddis outlined how the 1:1 initiative, now in its third and final phase, has impacted students and the way education is taught in 2018. The 1:1 initiative rolled out three years ago with the goal of providing each student in the school system with an iPad.
“Having the iPads in the hands of our students really does foster a way for us to have 21st century learning,” LeCave said. “Twenty first century learning is that we’re preparing students to go into the workforce or go to college and be successful in these areas.”
By using iPads, students are able to engage in the four C’s: communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, which will help them as they prepare for college courses or job training in the workforce, LeCave said.
“Our goal is to make sure that technology doesn’t become about just teachers doing things that are fun and letting kids do games and things like that,” LeCave said. “We want to make sure and this has been our sole focus since we started the 1:1 is that the standards drive instruction. Technology is just a way to enhance that instruction.”
With the ease of access for all students, the iPad was an easy choice for the school system which now has over 3,900 iOS devices between the teachers and students.
“At the end of the day, the committee felt like the iPad was the best device for assessment and instruction and it’s the most equitable device meaning if you have a student with disabilities they can use the iPad just as well as a student with ability can,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis also touched on some new programs in place to keep students safe and alert school officials of potential trouble.
In 2018 the school system began paying for Gaggle, a monitoring service that will alert school officials at the district office and at the individual campuses if a student has sent communications from their school Google accounts that indicate potential harm or bullying.
“In the case where there may be evidence of harm or self-harm or bullying it sends an email to three of us at the district office and the school APs and principals, whoever they have designated,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis said that since the beginning of the school year, his department has averaged one message expressing self-harm per week.
“This is worth every penny,” he said. “I’m glad we have it. It’s kind of one of those responses, intervention things we can do.”
Having Gaggle as a way to intervene is just one of the many ways Dawson County Schools has been proactive about the mental health of the students.
Janice Darnell, director of Student Support, spoke about the school system’s mental health services provided by her department.
According to Darnell, faculty and staff, as well as a large number of students, went through suicide awareness and prevention training to learn how to recognize symptoms and provide appropriate health. Along with counselors at every campus, this year the school system entered a partnership with Avita Community Partners, which provides a mental health counselor at Dawson County High School and the junior high school.
The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, initiative has also been implemented at all campuses and aims to provide behavioral expectations and reward those who demonstrate each set expectation.