O’Brien STEM Academy receives grant to purchase iPads

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Dec. 6, 2013
Sharon Codeanne, Matt Pomerenke, Donnie Miller, U.S. Rep. John Larson, East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc, John Bairos, state Rep. Henry Genga, Dr. Lesley Morgan-Thompson (principal of O'Brien School), Mike Mascaro, Dr. Nathan Quensel, Dan Glanville and students from O'Brien School at a check presentation ceremony in October. Photo contributed by Comcast. - Contributed Photo

Gone are the days of the rigid class structure, of desks all lined up neatly in rows facing the primitive, dusty chalkboard.  Although the foundations of instruction and learning in the classroom haven’t changed, the overall look and resources that are available have. Today’s classrooms are infused with technology.  From computers, to SMART boards to iPads, teachers and students have a variety of learning options to help children advance from grade to grade and prepare them to be successful in life.

The children in the higher grades at Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy on Farm Drive are already using iPads and now, courtesy of a grant, the children in the younger grades at the school will also have an opportunity to use iPads for learning opportunities. O’Brien STEM Academy has been awarded a $5,000 grant from Comcast that will enable the school to purchase iPads for their reading room to support children in kindergarten through second grade.

“I’m really excited that the grant came through because I think for those students it’s really going to be a motivating tool and it’s going to help them grow even more,” said Mary White, a literacy coach at the school.

A ceremony was held in October at the school to acknowledge receipt of the grant. Once the school has received the actual funds, it will proceed with purchasing the iPads.

Dr. Lesley Morgan-Thompson, the principal at O’Brien, said the goal of the program is to get students in kindergarten through second grade reading on grade level by the end of third grade. “There’s a lot of research that shows that’s a critical age to have kids on grade level by,” said Morgan-Thompson.  “Kids come in at a variety of levels, and in many cases they haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to learn at the level that we need them to have had it, so it’s just that they need extra time reading.”

Having the iPads in the reading room will give the staff an opportunity to download applications and e-books to assist children with their reading, said White. The iPad also brings an interactive element to the learning process. For example, if the children were focusing on short vowels they could move different letter combinations from one side of the screen such as an “AB” combination to the other side and combine it with a “J” to make the word “JAB.”

“It causes them to manipulate in a different way,” said White. “It’s just another way for them to get into the curriculum and into the different areas of reading that they are having difficulty with.”

Having the physical piece of technology in the children’s hands and the exercises formatted like a game gives the sense of a video game, but White stresses each task is based on a learning opportunity. “For some of those students that are reading and they are reading significantly behind, they’re frustrated with reading a lot of times so you want to keep them engaged and motivated so that they can start to apply these skills and break down words and feel more successful in reading,” said White.

And for the younger children who have grown up with technology – not the dusty chalk boards – the infusion of iPads into the learning process seems natural. “They [younger children] have a much quicker understanding of how to work with new technologies, and they’re not afraid of new technologies because they’ve lived with them their whole lives,” said Morgan-Thompson.

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