May 11, 2011 - 6:30 am
By Mignon Clyburn | Commissioner

I recently visited Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia where President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and other government officials visited this past March. There they lauded the extraordinary progress the middle school has made by leveraging advanced technology. The President discussed his initiative to reform the current “No Child Left Behind” system, by noting how important it is for our Nation to invest in innovative ways to keep those students fully engaged in the classroom. After reviewing the President’s remarks, I wanted to see the school for myself.

Kenmore is an Arts and Communications Technology Focus school. The Principal, Dr. John Word, believes that his 720 students perform better when they are excited about school. Children are already enthusiastic about the arts and advanced technology, so the faculty and staff encourage their existing interests by finding innovative ways to integrate the technology into the core curriculum. Each year, Kenmore picks an artist to be the center of study, and the students learn about the different facets of that artist’s life. This year, they are learning about jazz musician Duke Ellington and they are using their on campus media production studios to create a photo story tribute to his life and his work.

The teachers have also found ways to integrate advanced communications technology into more traditional classes. This has brought excitement back to teaching and learning, says Dr. Word. Students are more engaged and focused, he hears from the educators, and teacher retention is up because of the enhanced engagement. For example, one teacher blends broadband with his technology education class and social studies. The students use a computer assisted design programs to create, develop, and mass produce a game as if they worked in a factory as discussed in class with their social studies teacher. In another classroom, I was able to witness an autistic student using an iPad to better communicate with his teacher. Instead of using the blackboards I got to know all too well when I attended middle school, Kenmore equips each class with interactive SMART Boards. These whiteboards use touch detection for user input - e.g., scrolling, right mouse-click - in the same way normal PC input devices detect input. And in another setting, students from Kenmore interact with two other schools to learn a foreign language from an instructor in other nation.

Another key player in Kenmore’s successful integration of technology is Michael Goodman, the school’s Instructional Technology Coordinator. Dr. Word and Michael told me that their vision is to provide more kids with digital learning tools through broadband enabled devices, such as iPads. By pushing educational policies such as these, Kenmore is actively working towards the educational objectives that the Administration and the FCC consider most fundamental to remaining competitive in an increasingly global world. This year, SMART Technology named Kenmore the first ever SMART Showcase School of the Year for its superior use of instructional technologies in the classroom, and advocacy for the importance of interactive technology in schools.

Mr. Goodman also talked to me about how Dr. Word and he overcame funding challenges by finding resources outside of their school district. Most Kenmore teachers participated in the Library of Congress’s Teaching with Primary Sources professional development programs in order to obtain free LCD projectors for the school.

I was unable to spend as much time as I would have liked at Kenmore Middle School, but my short visit left me with great excitement. This school is an excellent example how effective use of broadband, and other advanced technologies, can improve educational outcomes for all of our children, regardless of their abilities and unique needs. I look forward to returning to Kenmore to see how the school evolves as technologies continue to develop.