Grants & Funding

EETT Focus: A Special Ed Technology Infusion

An Idaho middle school is using EETT funds to help bring its special education department into the 21st century. Using the grant money for a technology infusion, planners are looking to make their classrooms more accessible and more interactive to help better engage students and improve overall learning.

The special education department at Moscow Junior High School in Moscow, ID, will get a major technology upgrade this year, thanks to a grant from the Idaho State Department of Education. The $50,000 infusion will be used to purchase clickers, whiteboards, audio systems, and professional development for the teachers who will be using the new equipment in four classrooms.

Johanna Doyle, the school's instructional technology coordinator, worked with special education teacher Rachel Aiello and Idaho State University to apply for the "Enhancing Education Through Technology: 21st Century Classrooms" (EETT) grant. EETT is the sole source of dedicated federal funding for states to support technology initiatives in schools. The program aims to increase student academic achievement by integrating technology into curricula and instruction. Of the total $4.5 million in grant funding that will be distributed this year to Idaho public schools through the DOE, roughly $2.9 million is earmarked for the program.

Doyle said the school went after the grant after learning that some of its standardized test scores didn't meet state benchmarks for 2009. "This was the first year in a long time that we qualified to apply for an EETT grant," she said.

The number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch also factored in. "We don't usually qualify under that [criterion]," said Doyle, "but this year we did." To up the school's odds of netting the grant, Doyle and Aiello collaborated with employees from Idaho State University. Working together, representatives from both institutions developed the winning grant proposal.

Of the more than 100 school districts in the state, Moscow School District #281 was one of 52 that received the technology grant. While they wait for the $50,000 distribution, Doyle and Aiello have already started shopping around for equipment and training services for its 10 staff members. The equipment includes interactive whiteboards (with electronic slates with remote controls), classroom sound systems, condenser microphones, student response systems (or "clickers"), and LCD projectors.

Once installed, the high-tech equipment will help special education teachers instruct and interact with students. Teachers will be able to wear microphones, for example, with their voices broadcast through wall speakers. "That will allow for better resonance throughout the classroom," said Doyle, "and will keep students alert to what's going on in class, and what the teacher is saying."

Teachers will receive about 16 hours of training on the new equipment. The training will first focus on how to use the electronic devices ("there's a bit of a learning curve involved," said Doyle), and then on how to integrate the devices into the classroom. A third training component is optional, and focuses on International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. "That [aspect] of the training revolves around how to use spreadsheet and word processing programs as professional and teaching tools," said Doyle.

According to Doyle, Moscow Junior High School will also purchase (outside of the DOE) grant, a videoconferencing system that will allow it to broadcast the technology training to teachers in other schools. "Any district teacher will be able to participate in the technology training," said Doyle, "which we'll be able to schedule and share via the videoconferencing system."

On the schedule for May is a regional technology fair, where numerous product and service vendors demonstrate their wares. Dale Kleinert, principal, is organizing the event, which Doyle said will allow area school administrators to check out the latest in educational technology. "We expect that schools will come to buy equipment with grants they've received," she said, "or out of their regular working budgets."

Once in place, the new equipment is expected to enhance the learning process for the junior high school's 60 special education students, some of which have disabilities, and the balance are on individual education plans. Not only will teachers spend less time setting up and maintaining antiquated equipment, Doyle said, but they will also have more time to work directly with students.

The grant will also push the junior high school into a technology-based world that most of its students are already living in. "Whether students are gifted or exceptional, they're motivated and engaged by technology," said Doyle. "Thanks to the grant, we'll be able to tap into this powerful tool and get into their worlds."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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