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The digital district

A beautiful graphic by Education Week illustrates the trend K-12 schools have in America toward increasing the use of technology in their districts. In a special section called, “Building the Digital District,” Education Weekly reports on an increased pressure for districts to modernize and recent trends, such as 1-to-1 computing.

1-to-1 computing has become a high priority at K-12 school districts, Education Weekly found, and Columbia Public Schools is on its way to jumping the bandwagon. As I said in my last post about the soon-to-open Battle High, the  school is piloting a 1-to-1 technology initiative, which will give every student an iPad Mini. When I spoke with the district spokeswoman about this decision, she described it as simply a national progression. “Everything is about technology now,” she said.

Interestingly, when I spoke with  future Battle High School students, several said they wouldn’t know what to do with the iPad. “I’d much prefer a laptop,” one student said. According to Education Weekly, 34 percent of teenagers own a tablet. About 70 percent of teens own a computer, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s very possible that the students’ lukewarm reaction to the iPads stems from the fact they are still an emerging technology among the age group. Laptops are much more widely used among teenagers and college kids for educational purposes, and if tablets continue to grow in popularity, it will be interesting to see if this changes.

As more and more school districts continue to funnel money and time into developing their technology usage, questions that need to be answered will continue to arise. For Columbia Public Schools specifically, will using iPads as a textbook change the way students study? What about kids who don’t have WiFi at home or have never held a tablet before in their life? Will they benefit from this technology? And what of teachers? How will the integration of technology in newsrooms change the way we teach?

Obviously, I don’t have answers for these humongous questions now. But I want to find them. Throughout my undergraduate career, I hope analyzing Columbia’s school district, as it becomes a digital district, will be a major part of what I do. Because I believe my time as a journalist is best spent holding education in America accountable. Education shapes our future as a nation, after all. And if technology really will define the future, will our kids be ready?

K-12 Technology Usage
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Battling on through

If I had to sum up my life in one word right now, it would be so simple. It’d be “Battle.”

No, not the literal battling (though maybe a little bit because school feels like a warzone right now). For the most part, I’m talking about the soon to open Muriel Williams Battle High School.

For the past month, I’ve been completely focused on organizing an eBook that will be published in late May. Essentially it’s going to be everything you could ever want to know about the start of a new high school. Let me tell you, it’s been a lot of legwork. And friends outside of the Missourian (those do exist) don’t really understand why I’m making such a big deal of this. Let me tell you, there are a lot of reasons.

Battle is going to change Columbia Public Schools in more ways than just its existence. Take, for instance, the fact Battle will pilot a one-to-one technology initiative next year. Every student that walks through the Battle doors this fall will receive an iPad Mini. This will act as their textbooks and their notebooks. And if all goes well, this initiative could spread to the rest of Columbia high schools. Read more about it here.

I got to tag along for the first student tours of Battle last week. The students are current sophomores and will be the first graduating class of the high school. I got to see how Battle would change their lives. (You can read more about that here).

Students said they were excited about the new technology at their fingertips, excited about the brand new building, with floors “shiny enough to see reflections”, and excited to look outside of their floor-to-ceiling cafeteria windows at the vast, green football field.

But perhaps most of all, they are excited to be first. They are excited to be remembered.

“As part of the first class, I know my name will be left somewhere on this building,” said Kyra Moss, a Hickman sophomore. “I didn’t want to leave Hickman because of the traditions they have in theater. But Battle will be here for forever, and I want to be remembered. I want to help create traditions, so people won’t want to leave Battle.”

What an incredible place these kids are in. They get to create something from the ground up. They get to be remembered as the first. When Battle is well-established five years, 20 years, 100 years from now, my hope is that Columbia will be able to look back at this eBook we’re creating. My hope is that we’re documenting this big change in history as accurately as we can. I think we are. And that’s why I’m excited my life is all about Battle right now. Because isn’t reporting history one of the best parts of being a journalist?

Community is a fortress

Somehow it’s suddenly mid-April. Did anyone else miss that time warp or is it just me? After the past week we’ve had, however, I can’t say I’m too upset time is moving so fast. From the Boston Marathon bombing to the tragedy in West, Texas, the past week has reminded me yet again that my hands here in mid-Missouri are much too small to catch all the pain I see.

I didn’t lose anyone in either tragedy, nor am I from either place, yet I still felt all of the weight that comes with knowing your fellow people are suffering unjustly. It’s a heaviness you just can’t shake. And I feel over the course of my lifetime, be it 9/11, Newtown or the recent horrors, I’ve encountered more and more this sensation of having to recover from a tragedy that I didn’t personally witness.

On the day the bombs went off in Boston, I was stationed as perusal in the Missourian newsroom. Instantly, everyone snapped into action. Twitter and the wires were checked. Frantic phone calls were made. And I realized there was no place I would rather be. Because a community is a fortress when everything around you seems to be crumbling in slow-motion. And I realized when a local newspaper is doing it’s job correctly, it’s a community. It’s a fortress.

Our community outreach team at the Missourian truly amazed me that day. If the Missourian acted as fortress to Columbia, it was that team that was building us up brick by brick. Led by Joy Mayer, the group of six or so tracked down every single runner from Columbia that was in Boston. Through emailing, calling and a lot of social media networking, they confirmed that all 15 runners from Columbia appeared to be safe.

The Missourian confirmed all Columbia runners were safe.

The Missourian confirmed all Columbia runners were safe.

Friends and family members of these runners must have felt a sense of protection, knowing a group of total strangers was working so diligently to find those they loved. In the midst of sadness and anger, what a beautiful picture that is. What a fortress.

Beard talk

Sometimes, journalism can be hilarious.

I’m not talking about Thought Catalog or The Onion, or any type of humor that passes as news. No, I’m talking about how sometimes you walk into the newsroom and are told you’re going to report on beards today.

And not just any beard, but a BEARD PAC. That’s right. A super PAC supporting bearded candidates. Someone tell Brad Pitt that if he grows out his lovely gotee again, he’ll be set to run for president.

Columbia’s own school board member Jonathan Sessions co-founded the PAC, and I spent 45 glorious minutes talking to him about everything from bread committees to his own beard maintenance. I went for the overly serious reporter effect:

“So Mr. Sessions,” I asked him (he couldn’t see my furrowed brow through the phone)  “Why the beard discrimination? What happened that turned the general public against bearded politicians?”

There hasn’t been a bearded president in 125 years, by the way.

“Caroline,” he answered. “The public is being fed lies about beards. Even in TV shows or movies, the bad guy usually has a beard and the good guy is clean-shaven. Our goal is to suggest that sometimes Prince Charming can have a lavish beard, too.”

Let me tell you, the rest of the conversation was just as great. You can read the full story online or as a PDF. I wrote a little while ago about how I hope I can include more voice in my writing this semester. I loved writing this article because I had fun with it. My new goal is to look at every article I’m assigned, no matter how “boring” it seems, and ask myself, how can I beard-ify this story? So, be on the lookout for more bearded stories coming your way.

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