Dolvin Elementary School: City’s oldest school still pointing to future

Innovative use of technology prepares students for IT world with Inspired Classroom model

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – In 1979, Dolvin Elementary School opened its doors as the first Fulton County school built east of Ga. 400 since Newtown School in the 1930s. It gained some distinction a few months later when then-President Jimmy Carter presided over the dedication of the school named for his uncle and Fulton school principal W. Jasper Dolvin.

Today, it is the oldest active school in Johns Creek, but do not think that it is in any way out of step with today’s technological world.

Far from it, as Dolvin Principal Laura Zoll is quick to explain. Serving the Medlock and Ocee area, Dolvin has embraced the Inspired School model of education, which embraces computer technology and gets students out of their desks and engaging with the teacher and fellow students in an interactive environment.

Teachers communicate with parents about homework assignments via email. The class computers are no longer in a row at the back of the classroom. Now, they are in the center of the room with three or four students engaged in a research project or some other assignment, said Shannon Hunter, Dolvin PTA president.

“Classes are more product-driven than drill-and-skill,” she said.

So it is not Jasper Dolvin’s old classes anymore.

“The Inspired Classroom encourages creativity, communication problem-solving among the students and their teachers,” Zoll said. “This arrangement allows technology to become an integral part of the learning process rather just another center.”

There are 17 Inspired Classrooms in the school with the goal to be in all 40 classrooms by the end of 2014.

Fulton County started with one Inspired class five years ago. Now, the technology is spreading and Dolvin wants to be in the forefront. There are 60 certified staff members with the goal of 100. The school started with the upper level classes and is working down.

Gone are the days of watching films in class and taking a test. Now, students find clips online and integrate them in projects.

First-graders can check out iPads to look for facts online. They learn to use the technology to teach themselves seamlessly.

“By the time they are ready for their feeder school, Autrey Mill Middle School, they will be prepared,” Zoll said.

A big part of making this all happen is the Dolvin Elementary School Foundation, which does a lot of fundraising to buy the educational programs and technologies that are not available through regular funding from the Fulton County School System.

So far, the Dolvin Foundation has raised $625,000 for the school to invest in innovative technology.

“That assists students in learning and keeps students engaged. And it ensures that we are introducing 21st century skills to our children,” said the foundation Vice President Rebecca Hampson.

While the school system provides some computers for classes, the foundation usually doubles the number, so instead of three computers, it will have six.

Hunter said the PTA and the parents appreciate what the foundation has been able to accomplish in cooperation with the school staff.

“The parents are grateful to have this in school. We know our children are being better prepared for middle school, high school and college. You can’t start [learning technology] too early,” Hunter said.

Zoll says getting children up and out of their desks is part of the stimulation to learn. Now they work in groups of two or three sitting around one computer while others are engaged in other tasks.

“I grew up sitting in a row for six years. That’s hard on boys and girls,” Zoll said. “The classroom today is very different. In the old days, a good class was a quiet class. Now the opposite is true. Then they would be engaged in repetitive busy work. They weren’t engaged in learning. This is a different environment, one that is more collaborative.”