BACK TO SCHOOL

 

As Woodlake High embarks on its second century when school bells signal the end of summer break on Tuesday, Aug. 22, it’s doubtful that grads from two decades ago would recognize much in the 21st century classroom. Now every student at Woodlake’s high school and middle school gets a Chromebook to complete their schoolwork and interact with their teachers — all done online. 
 
Just when most of the rest of us were gaining proficiency on a MacBook or Windows laptop along comes Google with an entirely new operating system, the Chrome OS. These lightweight and extremely portable machines are designed to be used primarily while connected to Internet.
 
The thousands of the Chromebook’s applications and documents all live in the cloud. Cloud computing is a computing infrastructure and software model for enabling access from everywhere to shared pools of configurable resources that is computer networks, servers, storage, applications and services. Students of today, who have been virtually weaned on computing intuitively understand how all this new technology works – it’s the teachers and administrators that have to be retrained and brought up to date.
 
Rick Rodriguez, now in his fifth year as principal at Woodlake High, said cloud computing is not the wave of the future, the future is now. The Chromebooks are ideally suited to the school environment. The thousands of applications are what create learning opportunities and engage students, he said.
 
The students are merely doing what they most likely would be doing anyway, logging onto one device or another and going online. There are even apps for teachers to view every Chromebook in the class to ensure this Internet access is not being abused.
 
“The Woodlake Unified School District has its own WiFi system and there are filters so that restricted sites are not accessed,” Rodriguez said. “Of course, some students will invariably try to beat the system but in the first couple of years since the Google technology was introduced, the feedback from the students and teachers has been mostly positive.”
 
Rodriguez said one thing that is new this school year is the addition of interactive display panels — 80 or 90-inch big screens in 14 classrooms. The display panels make it possible for several students to work collaboratively on an assignment or a project while logged on from their own Chromebook. 
 
Some of these students will write their own programs and progress beyond the norm in computer skills. For these students, Rodriguez said, the high school now offers an Advanced Placement (AP) class in computer science. 
 
Much of the learning in nearly every subject now takes place by watching and creating videos. It figures that the video class is extremely popular so a second one has been added for the 2017-2018 school year. 
 
The Journalism class is planning to produce weekly school news segments and post these videos each Friday on the school’s website. Taking advantage of a dip in enrollment from 645 to 590 in the 2017-2018 school year, one classroom will be converted into a “maker’s place” where students can work on school projects and activities during free time and after school.
 
The Learning Academy, now in its third year, will begin implementation of a landscaped green space that last year’s students worked on and completed the design. Woodlake High also received a $250,000 annual after-school grant for the next three years that will focus on tutoring students in academic coursework but also on enrichment programs like performing arts and exercise activities like Zumba and weightlifting.              
 
“We think it’s critical to keep our students engaged after school too,” Rodriguez said.
 
The new school year will also be a throwback to some of the community events and activities that were extremely popular in the past. On the calendar for March 2 is the revival of the Woodlake High School Carnival and a talent show is scheduled for May 11.
 
Plans are also in the works for a community concert featuring the school choir and band at Woodlake’s new city plaza. 
 
“These events are a great way for the school to reach out and engage the community and are fundraising opportunities for students too,” Rodriguez said. “Students realize they must spend a lot of time at school. We want to make it fun for them to be here.”
 

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