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Changes in store as Woodridge students return to school

D-68 opens new library at JJH, welcomes new bilingual director

First-grade teacher Kevin Bigenwald prepares his classroom at William F. Murphy Elementary School this week. Students in Woodridge District 68 schools return to school Aug. 27.
First-grade teacher Kevin Bigenwald prepares his classroom at William F. Murphy Elementary School this week. Students in Woodridge District 68 schools return to school Aug. 27.

WOODRIDGE – School starts again in Woodridge next week, but students may realize it is not the same school they left a couple of months ago.

A new school year also means some new faces, old faces in new places and some new features.

Woodridge School District 68 officials broke down some of the changes students may see at their schools for the 2014-15 school year:

Tablet use on the rise

District 68 will continue a shift away from bringing students into computer labs and toward equipping them with mobile technology such as Chromebooks and iPad Minis.

“In this age of personalized digital learning, it’s not feasible to simply take students to technology anymore, which was the case with a stationary computer lab,” said Tarah Tesmer, the district’s instructional tech specialist. “We can bring mobility to the students to create a timely, flexible learning experience.”

This school year, each
district school will be equipped with 15 iPad Minis as part of an initial rollout of the tablets.

The district will also add to its fleet of Chromebooks. Last school year, each school was equipped with about four Chromebook carts – each cart includes 30 Chromebooks. This school year, each school serving grades kindergarten through sixth will have six or seven carts, depending on enrollment.

Time spent in computer labs will also continue to be cut, according to Amy Melinder, Director of Community Engagement for District 68.

“When those computer labs were put in, we didn’t have the technology we have today. Nowadays, going to the computer lab isn’t necessarily the most effective use of technology,” Melinder said.

Instead, technology will be “embedded into the natural learning routine for the students,” Tesmer said.

Funding for the new iPad Minis and the Chrome carts will come from district funds previously budgeted, Melinder added.

“We were very budget-conscious in doing this in that it’s not so much of an expansion as it is a shifting of the technology we’re using. So money spent to replace a PC in the computer lab is instead being spent to buy other technologies,” Melinder said.

Thomas Jefferson library redesigned

What started as a brainstorming session in the spring has led to a redesign of the library inside Thomas Jefferson Junior High.

“We wanted to create a space for students that opened up multiple paths for flexible learning while still fostering a love for reading,” Tesmer said.

After research, district officials targeted a concept of “the third place” –  a concept of community seen in local book stores, coffee shops and other popular hangouts that is separate from the typical social environments of home and work/school.

“In typical third places, conversation is the main activity, and we wanted to build a community space where students could experience unplanned and casual interactions and conversations with peers to foster creativity and innovation,” Tesmer said.

During the spring, a select group of students were chosen to assist Tesmer with feedback on what they would hope would be available to them in a library or learning lab space. In addition, all Jefferson staff members were surveyed with images of popular workplaces /revamped libraries that showcase the characteristics of “the third place.”

The design that was born includes an open floor plan of waist-high shelving and a wide range of seating arrangements that allow for group and independent learning opportunities.

Technology is readily available to students with areas for plugging in electronic devices as well as various high definition displays that a student can plug his/her Chromebook into as an external display. The space will also feature white-board writable tables and walls, a multi-user touch SMARTboard and other HD TV displays that will push out various media content from CNN news, stocks, district Twitter feeds and images of the students from the school days.

The renovation was paid for within the district’s fund for capital improvement projects, Melinder said.

New Director of English Language Learners

This school year, there will be a leader of District 68’s English Language Learners program: Juan Corona, a seven-year bilingual teacher.

Corona will be taking on the role of Director of English Language Learners, a new position in the district that is mandated by the state.

The English Language Learners program launched in 2012 to provide English learners with the necessary skills and strategies to be successful in school.

Currently, District 68’s bilingual program services nearly 500 students that speak more than 50 different languages.

Corona comes from Addison School District 4, where he served as a second- and fifth-grade teacher. Two years ago he came to Woodridge School District 68 as an ELL/ESL teacher for seventh and eighth grades, where he led instruction for English learners in science, social studies, math as well as Spanish resource.  

Corona has already begun this new role by working with state auditors to improve the bilingual program and its services, according to the district. Among his many goals, he will focus on strengthening the bilingual program as well as providing his staff with the necessary professional development to ensure best practices for all English learners.

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