Take a group of enthusiastic fifth-graders being taught by devoted teachers. Next, add a lot of altruistic, community-minded activities. Add a dash of cool, new technology, and what do you get?
With a little luck, you get the enthusiastic response every teacher hopes for.
That’s what teachers at Brooklyn Middle School and Windham’s Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy experienced during a recent EASTCONN Interdistrict Grant program, when both schools used EASTCONN’s new video conferencing capacity to bring their fifth-graders together for the first time.
Nearly 150 fifth-graders who are taking part in EASTCONN’s year-long Creating Community Builders Interdistrict Grant program were able to chat, ask questions, and meet peers from their participating sister school, using EASTCONN’s high-quality video equipment and know-how to provide real-time interaction during students’ first virtual get-together this fall.
“The video conference went extremely well,” said Lynn Paglione, who facilitates the Creating Community Builders grant for EASTCONN. “The teachers were impressed by the high level of student involvement and engagement. We all were. The kids were incredibly attentive in both schools. There was this wonderful, exciting energy that emerged. Students can’t wait to see one another again on screen and in person.” Four classes from Brooklyn and three from Barrows participated in the video conference.
EASTCONN’s Creating Community Builders grant, funded by the Connecticut State Department of Education, promotes service learning as a civic and cultural responsibility. All year, students connect with sister school pen pals and collaborate on projects that will improve life in their hometown communities. Students keep journals, read related books and discuss the broader social implications of service learning. They are also bused to each other’s schools.
“The video conferencing was a very valuable experience,” said Brooklyn fifth-grade teacher Enrica Desabota, who is Brooklyn’s point teacher for the grant. “It gave students from two different schools … the opportunity to get to know each other. Students were, and continue to be, very excited and look forward to meeting up … because they feel that they have already made a connection.”
“The video conferencing was a great way for the students to ‘show off’ their school,” said teacher Ann Pronovost, Barrows’s point teacher. “Many students were excited to be on camera and it seemed as though they were also engaged in the back and forth nature of the questioning. It was a nice way to initiate a first meeting.”
Interdistrict Grants connect children from different schools and communities to build tolerance and increase their academic success.
“As we face serious state cuts to our Interdistrict Grant funding, high-quality videoconferencing is an effective tool for facilitating student interaction,” said Nancy Vitale, who coordinates EASTCONN’s Interdistrict Grant programs.
“Videoconferencing eases the shyness that many kids experience when they meet face-to-face for the first time,” she said. “It also creates transportation savings and fewer disruptions to the school day, because kids don’t have to leave their classrooms.” Funding cuts had delayed students’ first face-to-face meeting until mid-year.
“Teachers were eager to use this technology tool with their students,” said Kerin Griffin, a specialist with EASTCONN’s Technology Web and Media Services. She taped students at Barrows, while EASTCONN’s Tom Schenking oversaw Brooklyn’s media needs.
“Just the process of being able to see their peers on screen was exciting,” said Griffin. “The kids were so well-behaved and engaged. To bring this technology to life for kids was a neat experience. They all took turns, were respectful, and asked really great questions.”