Teachers and administrators in the rural village of DePue, Ill—more than 100 miles southwest of Chicago—are connecting with their colleagues and students in new and exciting ways as they lead the difficult work of turning around academic achievement in their local high school.
Like many who traveled to the this month’s federal 2011 Midwest Regional School Improvement Grant Capacity-Building Conference in Chicago, the DePue School District team is investing heavily in teacher and administrator training to improve instruction. With help from the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants, they are also deploying the latest technologies to provide students and adults with a new world of learning opportunities.
Robert Libka, who leads a transformation team of 10 educators at DePue High School, used Skype to connect with a teacher in Indonesia during a recent professional development workshop. “It was 1 a.m. her time and she was interested enough in our work to log-in,” said Libka, adding that he wants DePue teachers to know their work is important and can have global impact. Technologies such as Skype can improve collaboration for rural educators, and reduce their sense of isolation.
English teacher Mary Flor uses an interactive white board to guide her class of seniors to research on poetry classics. Her students use their laptops to dive deeper into the material than would be possible with only a text book. These new tools are being used to enrich classroom discussions through wireless Internet at school, which is the only online access available to some DePue students.
DePue is also using technology to give its students a head start for college. Many of them are the first in their families to attend college. It offers college-level coursework to its students online through a partnership with nearby Illinois Valley Community College.
Teacher Tim Stevens uses computer software to help students prepare for the ACT college entrance exam, which is mandatory for all 11th graders in Illinois as a part of its state assessment. The individually paced instruction has helped some students boost both their scores and their confidence in going on to college.
A transformation is underway at DePue High School – one that is designed to prepare every student for success in college and the career of their choice.
John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education