Leonore Annenberg Winner Innovates with Technology

Last Updated: November 29, 2011

This article appeared in the November 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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When Owsley County Elementary School in Booneville, Kentucky received a Leonore Annenberg School Fund grant, staff knew they wanted to extend the school's efforts to engage students in non-traditional means of learning and expose students to learning opportunities many would not otherwise have.

"We are trying to bring to the forefront 21st century thinking and skills," says principal Stephen Gabbard. 

The school and the entire Owsley County School system are already participating in several innovation pilot programs through the Kentucy Department of Education and the school has been working with the local telephone cooperative, which is extending fiberoptic access to all its customers.

But the school system faces significant economic challenges and providing up-to-date technology can be a challenge.

The Leonore Annenburg School Fund grant, which is specifically targeted to schools with high levels of poverty and other challenges, proved to be an important resource for these efforts.

"We were able to use the grant funds to purchase iPads and iPods that we are incorporating into our instructional approaches," says Gabbard. The devices are shared among classrooms and synchronized to enable sharing instructional programs and receiving updates. 

For example, many of the applications for the Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms are geared toward early reading skills and early computational needs. Applications for grades two through four are not only geared toward reading and mathematics, but also serve to enrich and introduce other content areas in the social, physical, and biological sciences. Applications for grades five and six provide enrichment and engagement in all content areas.

In addition, the school has configured the devices with programs specifically targeted to students with special needs to support classroom engagement and learning.

The school is also working to use the technology to support instruction in the arts and humanities across all grade levels and is exploring an iBooks initiative.

The program has enabled Owsley County to be the first district in the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative region to implement an iPad and iPod instructional initiative. The 15-district region meets monthly to work on common initiatives, and Owsley County has become a point of contact for this type of instructional approach.

Snowbound Pilot Project

The school’s technology work is also having a state-wide impact through its participation in the Snowbound Pilot Project, one of the innovation initiatives of the Kentucky Department of Education.

Owsley County is located in eastern Kentucky where mountainous terrain combines with icy conditions that often make winter travel impossible for school buses. "We sometimes miss as many as 24 or 25 days of school because of snow and ice," says Gabbard.

The school system makes that time up by adding days at the end of the school year (after state testing occurs).
As part of the Snowbound Pilot initiative, Owsley County Elementary used its iPod and iPad-based instructional technologies to make up six days of school during severe winter weather.

"You do something like that and you learn quickly what does and doesn't work," says Gabbard. The school is already developing uses for the devices this year that emphasize innovative uses of technology. 

Because of the efforts of the local telphone cooperative, the county has a high rate of internet access, especially for a low-wealth rural area. Even so, not all students have computers or high-speed access in their homes or nearby. Gabbard says the school's efforts are especially focused on those students and on ways to bring technology and access to them.

"We are developing partnerships with churches and libraries and other points of contact throughout the county so that on days when the buses can't run but cars can move around, students can have relatively easy access to internet connections and use the devices in even more ways," Gabbard explains.

Because the county has already developed several mechanisms for students to earn academic credit through non-traditional methods, it was possible for Owsley Elementary to use these technology approaches to continue instruction on some of the snow days.

The school continues to use hybrid approaches, mixing technology and project approaches with more traditional instruction. And, it continues to expand its partnerships to extend student learning throughout the day and the year. 

"We are just extremely appreciative of the opportunity to use the Annenberg grant to expand and develop our efforts," Gabbard concludes. 

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Owsley County Elementary School website:

Read more from the November 2011 Rural Policy Matters.