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Updated: 01/15/2014 08:00:02AM

A winning duo: technology meets tutoring

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Twin siblings Jesus Mota and Maria Mota do their schoolwork via computer, side by side, and listen intently as they wear their headphones. Their brother, Fredy Mota, was also in the classroom, working with teacher Lonnie Murphy on his assignments for the day.


In Brenda Lasseter's after school class, students are asked questions about flamingoes. Janisha Ward, third grade, raises her hand to answer.


Third grade teacher Kristine Shollenberger enjoys a moment with her students as they work on computers, doing FCAT Explorer program, which will help prepare them for the FCAT test.


Olga Stafford, who works with first and second grade students in the after school program, takes a look at what her daughter is doing. Gabriella Stafford is working on a school iPad, doing her assignments.


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Back in the old days, even a century ago, one might see a student hold a chalk slate in their hand and write their answers down for the teacher to examine.

But modern technology has improved on the days of chalk dust, replacing it with iPads, and Polk Avenue Elementary teachers couldn’t be happier.

And it is especially helpful in Polk’s after school tutoring program, which is also going through some changes.

A simple statement would be that Polk Avenue has figured out a way to reach migrant children and enhance their learning, while keeping them in the mix of the school population, and technology has formed the bridge thereof.

When the Lake Wales Charter School migrant services coordinator, Julio Acevedo, set about obtaining a Title 3 grant, Polk Avenue expressed an interest in getting in on that action.

The government grant provided 10 iPads for the school, which are used both for the English as a Second Language classes and the after school tutoring mix of both migrant, non migrant, and ESOL students who need a little extra support to enhance their classroom experience.

“So we are adding some more regular education students and we added some teachers in class on the third-grade level,” notes Ambica Saran, Title One Facilitator for Polk Avenue.

One of the migrant tutors, Olga Stafford, is teaching a mixed group of first- and second-grade students. She will have one iPad per student, with a class size of five students.

“There are some apps for migrant students, and ESOL, but we also work one on one in small groups with them,” she said.

“My kids are using a Level A reading comprehension manual. Most of it is hands-on learning. It helps them with comprehension,” Stafford says.

“And it does bring about student engagement,” Saran notes.

The percentage of Hispanic students is very high at Polk Avenue as compared to the other Charter schools, she says.

“Olga and I will be working along with them, side by side, just monitoring them. And they can learn how to use it and they have testing on the iPads.”

Kristine Shollenberger teaches third grade.

The students in her after school program are preparing for the FCAT, a test they must pass to advance to fourth grade.

Each student sits at a computer while wearing headphones, and follows the instructions given on the state-provided software program.

Saran notes there are about 78 students currently in the after school program.

“And we have added our migrant students to it. We recognize our migrants that were already in the program, which will be given transportation and additional teacher assistance,” she said. Migrants do not usually inform the school that they are migrants, she notes, so teachers have to be on the lookout for them and for assistance they may need.

Acevedo noted in a talk he gave to the Lake Wales Breakfast Rotary recently, that migrant students face different challenges from non migrant students, in that they leave before the school year is over, some facing problems with enrollment in the other states where their parents work.

Class time is lost and there are gaps in their learning, he noted.

The computers are helpful, Saran notes.

Shollenberger adds that the software for the FCAT is web-based so students can access it at home. Polk County Schools generates password and login information for all students in Polk County, so they can log in at school or at home.

“Students tend to be a lot more engaged,” she said.

Some parents have no Internet, so students can either utilize the public library, a friend’s computer, or the school to access their assignments.

Saran notes the questions in Shollenberger’s class are from the FCAT practice test.

“So the students and the parents can look at the actual real test type of questions,” she said.

Students get instant feedback on their work. A diamond on the screen means a successful answer, and then directions to the passage in question if the answer is wrong, so the student can go back and reread what they missed, and try again.

“And it will prompt them as to where to look in the passage,” Saran says.

Shollenberger adds the students do enjoy the computers.

“It’s different than the direct instruction that they are accustomed to. It makes it fun,” she says.

Polk Avenue has adopted the system by Stephen R. Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” notes the school’s teacher of the year, who has worked with migrants for some time, and actually worked in the poorest sections of Haiti for more than 20 years.

She notes that her goal is to get the children to take responsibility for their own success.

She says she expects that of her kids, and notes that with the school being a “Leader in Me” school — this makes that success possible.

Murphy gently guides the student in front of her, as he studies his lesson, and answers questions she asks of the material in front of them.

There is a method to her success, she notes, and that is to help the students believe that they can succeed.

“That’s the reason that I do this migrant tutoring,” she notes.

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