FORTVILLE — As teachers from Mt. Vernon School Corp. arrived at work Wednesday morning, they found one essential element missing from their classrooms: the students.
Wednesday marked the district’s second delayed start school day, when classes at all schools are pushed back 45 minutes to give teachers and administrators time to collaborate and learn the latest approaches to education. Officials say the training time is imperative to equip teachers to handle the district’s new take-home computer program.
Mt. Vernon Superintendent Shane Robbins said the 45-minute block will be particularly useful to teachers at the beginning of the school year, as many are still grappling with the new technology program, which equips each student with a computer to use in class.
“To grow and succeed as a district, we realize we have to continue training our teachers about the best approaches to learning, especially with the technology,” he said. “Our teachers have become more comfortable with the (computers) in just the first few weeks of school, and I see it slowly picking up steam.”
The topics of the weekly meeting vary by school, Robbins said. Each building’s principal assesses the school’s current needs and may choose to bring in outside experts or speakers on a variety of topics.
Heather Whitaker, principal at Mt. Comfort Elementary School, said she plans to focus on technology training during the first few sessions, but that could change based on teachers’ needs.
At Wednesday’s training session, Whitaker ran through the various technological tools teachers now have at their disposal, including Google Docs, a Web-based program that allows users to create and share documents with one another.
Whitaker said the goal of the session was to introduce teachers to the programs and give them a taste of the new possibilities.
“Many of them don’t know all of the options that are now available to them with (the computers), so we’re trying to help with the transition,” she said. “They’ll have to dig into it more on their own, but we want to make sure they know all the basics and where to find the tools they can use.”
She said one advantage of the delayed-start program is it gives teachers and administrators a chance to get together and share suggestions, an opportunity that sometimes proves difficult to come by.
“Because of our schedules and the way our day is laid out, it’s very difficult for teachers to find a common time to meet with one another, other than outside of school hours,” Whitaker said.
Amy McCleery, a first-grade teacher at Mt. Comfort Elementary School, said collaborating with other educators makes for a more complete learning environment.
“We all have different ideas and different strengths, so it’s great that we have this chance to get together and see what other teachers are doing in the classroom,” she said. “This gives us a chance to share that information and see what’s working best.”
Whitaker said that, although the students lose 45 minutes of instruction time during delayed days, the positive effects of the program will outweigh the negatives.
“Those 45 minutes are a small price to pay for the skills and information our teachers are gaining,” she said. “It will only make our lessons more engaging and useful.”
During the delays, which take place every Wednesday this school year, students can either show up to school at the normal start time or arrive 45 minutes late. Buses will run on their normal schedules, so students who rely on school transportation will arrive early.
Elementary school students who arrive at the normal start time are led by designated staff members through a series of supplemental learning stations that cover physical education, technology training and critical thinking skills. Those who arrive early at the middle school and high school can work independently and use the time as a study hall, Robbins said.
Brian Boudouris, physical education teacher at Mt. Comfort Elementary School, corralled a group of second-graders and led them through a series of exercise stations on Wednesday morning. He said the physical activity gets students geared up to learn.
“It gets their blood pumping, and that’s always a good way to stimulate the brain and get kids ready for the day,” Boudouris said.
Eastern Hancock School Corp. has utilized a similar program since 2011, but its training sessions last 30 minutes and occur on the first Wednesday of each month.
Carla Renforth, a fifth-grade teacher at Mt. Comfort, said she knows the late starts might take some getting used to, but she’s eager to see the outcome.
“Things are definitely changing here at Mt. Vernon, and there’s definitely a learning curve to a lot of the new concepts and technology,” she said, “but there’s also a lot of excitement.”
“Those 45 minutes are a small price to pay for the skills and information our teachers are gaining,”
Mt. Comfort Elementary Principal Heather Whitaker, on the delayed-start program