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Student access to technology on the rise at Willowbrook

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 12:04 p.m. CST
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Art Department Chairwoman Jan Piedra makes suggestions to Nora Grzadziel in her Graphic Design I class Wednesday at Willowbrook High School. (Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Willowbrook High School students like Josh Martinez (left), Peter Noto and Bryce Mathews work on laptops Wednesday in the Villa Park school's media center. (Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Anthony Murillo (left) and other students in Jan Piedra's Graphic Design I class learn design Wednesday in a computer lab at Willowbrook High School. (Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)

VILLA PARK – Students surf the Web on laptops in pairs while others find a comfy window seat to check their smartphones in the Willowbrook High School commons during lunch.

“Our kids are truly digital natives,” said Aaron Lenaghan, District 88’s director of technology, learning and teaching.

The school’s bring-your-own-device policy and a new laptop checkout at the library are just two ways Lenaghan said Willowbrook and District 88 are expanding student access to technology.

Willowbrook has a total of six full-size computer labs, six mobile carts with enough laptops for an entire class and about seven smaller laptop carts.

“We look at how we can increase overall access to technology for our kids that might have limited access outside of school,” Lenaghan said.

Art Department Director Jan Piedra remembers when she was learning graphic design, everything was by hand, but since she’s returned to school for graphic design, she brought her tech-savvy to Willowbrook.

“By the end of the semester, they’re faster than me,” Piedra said.

Students in her Graphic Design I class learn the basics of Photoshop, which District 88 keeps up-to-date with the latest version. Piedra said many of her students come back to use the software to design posters or other items for other classes.

“We have alumni that come back every year in December, and many of them have gone into graphic design fields,” Piedra said.

Senior Sam Tullia, 17, plans to learn as much as he can about how to use Photoshop and Illustrator because he plans to find a job in printing or expo design.

“It’s good to learn about new technology ... especially because a lot of schools don’t have the privilege of having a lot of these classes and the technology,” Tullia said, pointing out 3D printers in the back of the newly renovated computer lab.

New this year, District 88 students can take a blended online P.E. class for individualized fitness instead of a traditional P.E. class. Students are given heart rate monitors along with physical tasks or benchmarks. They meet periodically with their teacher, but exercise on their own while the heart rate monitor collects data about their workout.

This is the first class that uses the district’s Nucleus learning management system, which allows teachers to post class information and assignments online as well as set up class forums or discussions similar to online college courses.

“As much as possible we try to be fiscally conservative, but at the same time have a component within the budget so we can field test out what other types of technologies are available,” Lenaghan said.

Teachers are also given access to staff development online, so they can keep up with fast-paced changes in technology. Teachers can take online modules on various software and hardware as they feel necessary.

Lenaghan also said having a shared online space with resources has become most important, regardless of what type of device is used.

Willowbrook and all District 88 students have school email accounts, but also a shared drive that can be accessed online from any device inside or outside of school. Lenaghan said this increases the resources available to students outside of the school day.

“It’s definitely a needed and essential part of how kids are learning,” Lenaghan said.

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