A desire for technology

Shenandoah County School Board Vice Chair Karen Whetzel, left, and County Supervisor Steven Baker talk during a Thursday morning tour of Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg. Josette Keelor/Daily

QUICKSBURG – In the library at Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg, Librarian Lisa Gibson said students are imagining the future of education. And they’re not the only ones.

“I have some visions that I’ve been working on,” Gibson said.

The addition of couches, beanbag chairs and low to the ground “teenage chairs” has encouraged students into a more inviting space for reading or doing other homework, and a café area has welcomed in readers at lunchtime. It’s often standing room only, Gibson said.

The changes came after Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley suggested schools help their libraries evolve for a new generation.

The idea was to make each library the hub of its building, Raley said — “And find a way that this is where kids want to be — make this the center of your school. And you have done that,” he told Gibson.

Lisa Gibson, librarian at Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg, talks about a recent remodeling project to make the library more of a central location for students. Changes included the addition of beanbag chairs, bucket-style "teenage chairs" and a coffee bar where students hang out during lunch or free periods. Josette Keelor/Daily

But progress can’t be one-sided, Gibson noted. “When you have your administration backing you, it’s a lot easier.”

Thursday morning at the county’s southern campus, Raley joined School Board Chairman Richard L. Koontz Jr. and Vice Chair Karen Whetzel in touring Quicksburg’s three schools with County Supervisor Steven Baker.

It was the third and final tour of county schools in two weeks’ time. Supervisors and board members came as available, talking with teachers, meeting with students and learning from principals the needs of each school.

But in a county of diverse needs, with overcrowding in the North and too few students in the South, streamlining change isn’t easy. Schools in Strasburg indicated building needs, while in Quicksburg, technology upgrades topped principals’ lists of necessities.

At the elementary school level, students are studying science, technology, engineering and math by using Lego simple machines with art teacher Beth Colwell, computer coding with technology teacher Kat Staten and a 3D printer with instructional technology resource coach Robin Orndorff. The Parent-Teacher Organization at Ashby Lee Elementary School bought the 3D printer for the school, and the other two programs were funded through grants.

Alex Pastalove, left, and Josh Stickle, both 7, learn how to make a homemade lava lamp at Ashby Lee Elementary School in Quickburg on Thursday. Josette Keelor/Daily

A Moore Grant will also fund an outdoor learning lab, which Principal Stephen Povlish said will include a graffiti wall and sun shades. The grant won’t fund all that he’s envisioned, he said, but “it’s enough to get started.”

Not only a cool classroom addition, the 3D printer helps the school teach curriculum for the Standards of Learning tests by encouraging students to build small plastic models of what they study in text, Povlish told Raley.

“So,” Raley concluded, “rather than reading about the Pyramids of Giza, let’s build the Pyramids of Giza.”

In art class, Raley also noticed, “We’re doing the traditional, but we’re also learning in new ways. Technology will benefit these kids lifelong.”

Povlish agreed, “To do it right, yes, we definitely could use more technology. Not just with STEM, but just in general, we want to compete.”

Baker, who toured every county school, said he was impressed by what students today are learning. Particularly at the elementary school level, he said, education has changed “drastically” by “huge leaps and bounds.”

Change in prioritizing funding has got to happen, he said, and he plans to discuss his thoughts on the campus tours with fellow supervisors at the next regular meeting at 4 p.m. on May 7.

“You just cannot keep putting students in a building if it’s already at 105 percent,” he said, referencing elementary schools in Strasburg and Woodstock. “You’ve got to be able to make a better situation.”

“The thing is, I’m here because I care,” he said.

“I’m a busy person. [But] I’m here. It’s a priority for me to be here.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com