Tech Ready: Forsyth delivers in its technology promise

Annual bus tour showcases digital classrooms

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CUMMING, Ga. — When the theme is school technology, Forsyth County ranks as a leader. State education officials are taking note of the district as a model for best practices.

About 80 influencers from across the state visited two county schools Oct. 30 as part of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s 20th annual state bus trip. Over a two-week period, the bus tour visited about 10 schools.

The South Forsyth High School marching band, cheerleaders and a lively choir welcomed tour participants. Earlier in the day, the visitors stopped at Kelly Mill Elementary School.

“There are two purposes of this, to celebrate achievement and best practices,” said Bill Maddox, communications director for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. “We want them to take everything they see back home.”

To be part of the tour, both Kelly Mill and South Forsyth were nominated as stops and then passed rigorous review of the achievement numbers, use of technology, culture and relationships within the community, Maddox said.

At Kelly Mill Elementary, the educators were impressed by the county’s bring your own technology initiative, which encourages students to use a tool they are comfortable with in a learning setting.

“These kids were walking around with their iPhones, with cameras, with iPads and they were all engaged with them,” Maddox said. “When you talk technology, wow, we are in the right place.”

The last time Forsyth County was chosen to be part of the tour was five years ago.

Forsyth County School Superintendent Dr. L.C. “Buster” Evans said he was proud of Kelly Mill, which has been open for three months.

“They are using technology in the instruction process throughout the building,” Evans said.

At South Forsyth, tour participants saw how older students have so many opportunities from robotics, engineering and culinary arts.

“[There are] so many opportunities to connect kids with their future,” Evans said. “I’m please to think that it’s an expectation we’ve been able to meet that has been held up to us by our community and our folks have responded.”

Among attendees of the tour were the Georgia teacher of the year, college students training to be teachers and state school district officials, business, government, school administrators and educators at all levels.

Meganne Butler, a University of Georgia graduate student, who graduated from South Forsyth High School, was excited to see familiar faces and hallways.

“It’s been really eye-opening seeing all the technology and how it’s integrated,” Butler said. “It’s not bringing technology for the sake of technology, but it’s being used and the students are getting it.”

Butler said that what the students are capable of sometimes can surpass a teacher’s knowledge of the technology.

“In all honesty, they are teaching me stuff,” Butler said.

Butler said tour participants were encouraged to interact with students and ask questions.

“They are excited to show off their experiments,” Butler said.

Ian Stewart, 17, a senior at South Forsyth in the school's engineering applications class, showed off a plasma cutter to visitors. In terms older folks can understand, this is probably the equivalent of a woodshop class.

“Except now we’ve got metal shop,” Stewart said. “We can make about anything.”

With precision, students in this class can make mailboxes, signs, metal logos and even iPhone cases. In another work station, students are using 3-D laser cutters to engrave and shape wood products with 100 percent accuracy.

Lauren Eckman, an English teacher at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon and the 2013 Georgia Teacher of the Year, said it was amazing to see all the technology used in the classroom for student learning and engagement.

“I know a lot of people are hesitant about using technology in the classrooms because they think it will inhibit children’s communication skills, but what I’ve seen in this tour is that it enhanced their communication skills,” Eckman said. “They are eager, they are engaging when they are sharing with you, they make eye contact. The can articulate exactly what they want to share in a meaningful, positive way.”

Eckman said her students have visual impairments, so the lessons she will take to Macon will have to incorporate accessibility.

One potential interactivity that can take place, Eckman said, will be a Skype teleconference with her students at one end hearing the Kelly Mill students.

“So we can use the technology in different ways to make a collaborative effort,” Eckman said.