School Earns Apple Accolade Second Year in a Row
by Nalini Raghavan Gore
West Feliciana Middle School, under the leadership of Principal Benjamin Necaise, recently received the Apple Distinguished School award for the second year in a row, one of only 44 schools in the nation to receive the award this year and one of only three in Louisiana, according to WFP Superintendent Hollis Milton. The award is given to schools that have committed to digitally transforming their classrooms, fully integrating technology into the classroom and curriculum.
In 2009 the school implemented its one-to-one program, providing each sixth grade student a lap top to use just as he or she would be assigned a textbook. The program has expanded to other grade levels so that now the entire middle school, along with first second, ninth and tenth grades participate in the initiative. With respect to its commitment to technology, Milton described the WFP school district as a "trailblazer." The middle school adopted the one-to-one initiative at a time when very few schools in the state had so fully committed to digitally transforming their classrooms.
Each year, the school district ups the ante. This year, Milton explained, they are piloting the introduction of iPads which will likely replace laptops in this initiative; Milton predicts that in the near future, tablet-based implements such as iPads will replace the traditional textbook. Currently, six grades in the school district spanning elementary to high school are piloting the use of iPads in the classroom, including some of the districts youngest students in the first and second grades.
Milton thinks that prioritizing the introduction of technological tools into the earliest grade levels is important. "For our kids now, computers and laptops are relevant to them at the earliest ages," Milton explained. I actually think it is just as important to begin to bring these types of devices down to the earliest grade levels. It's part of their world. So if we are going to continue to make education very relevant, this is an area that we need to continue to expand. I think that's been part of our success is knowing and understanding that and trying to move toward that direction," he said.
As school districts throughout the state are faced with implementing the rigorous and much more technology-rich Common Core Curriculum, Milton said that WFP is a decade ahead of the game. Milton estimated that, in this regard at least, the transition to the new curriculum "is going to be extremely easy."
With such a demonstrated commitment to teaching 21st skills, not incidentally a part of the district's newly-adopted mission statement, it is no surprise Apple considers the Middle School, and the entire district by extension, worthy of its "Distinguished" title. "I think what Apple recognizes is that we have a successful model here in West Feliciana Parish, said Milton.
Photo: Students in Ms. Pritchard's sixth grade math class at West Feliciana Middle School use iPads as learning tools, part of the school district's one-to-one technology program.