Teach Kentucky Teacher Leads Tech Grant at Shawnee Middle School
Last spring, when TKY third-year teacher Sara Meierding learned she would be leaving the classroom to take a technology coaching role with the Digital Promise Verizon Innovative Learning schools grant at Shawnee Middle, she worried she wasn’t ready for the challenge after only having taught for three years. Five months into the role, however, she is confident in her skills, excited by what she’s learning, and energized by the increased level of student engagement and authentic learning.
Shawnee Middle School is one of five JCPS Verizon Innovative Learning schools. In these schools, the program is being implemented to supply every student with an iPad and internet access, teachers with professional development and support through coaching roles like Sara’s, increased STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) opportunities and use of data analysis to understand the project’s impact. The program seeks to close the digital divide that disadvantages lower income students and provide opportunities for career development in STEM fields.
From the beginning of her teaching career, Sara has seen the value in leveraging technology for in-depth, authentic, relevant and engaging learning for her students. She loved teaching sixth grade social studies, but struggled to make world cultures concrete and understandable for her students when there was little access to technology. Rather than lamenting her limits, Sara began working to procure technology for her students. She applied for and won a Donors Choose grant that gave her four iPad minis, and she applied for a district opportunity through JCPS through which she received 16 refurbished iPads.
Entering her second year with a class set of devices meant Sara could completely revamp the way she taught. “I didn’t want it to be like digital
textbooks. I wanted to empower my students to do something different, to deepen inquiry in my classroom over more teacher-centered sit-and-get.” Sara began developing project-based learning and partnered with Heine Brothers to collaborate on a project connecting her students to students in Uganda through Skype. Her classroom was completely transformed and her students were now experiencing different cultures in ways they couldn’t have imagined before.
When Shawnee Middle School was awarded the Verizon Digital Promise grant in 2018, part of the grant went to supplementing the salary of a technology coach to support the teachers in shifting their instruction to incorporate the new technology the grant provided students. At the time, Sara was the only teacher at Shawnee Middle who had experience teaching with digital technology on a daily basis. Despite her initial apprehension, she sees now that she was the perfect fit for the role, because she knew the challenges and possibilities of moving to fully integrate technology into instruction at Shawnee Middle School.
Sara shares that she is grateful for the opportunities Teach Kentucky offered her as she sought to build partnerships in the community. “Teach Kentucky helped me make meaningful connections with local people who
were interested in education,” Sara says. “The Heine Brothers partnership was one example. Rowan also connected me to entrepreneurs in the tech industry in Louisville, which has been huge for kids at Shawnee.”
When Rowan connected Sara with Kelby Price last August, Kelby was then able to bring in his network to work directly with Shawnee students. One such partner was Ian Willmot who runs Louisville Drone Academy. “Their mission of drone education and career-focused project based learning aligns perfectly with our school’s aerospace magnet,’” Sara explains.
She’s seeing the impact of such partnerships in the motivation of Shawnee students today, as these partners bring drones to the school and help teachers implement authentic, hands-on Problem-Based Learning projects.
“Teach Kentucky gave me great support when I entered the classroom, but the real power has been in the network I’ve been able to access, both in the community and in schools all across JCPS,” says Sara. A network she’s leveraged for the direct benefit of students.
Teach Kentucky is currently recruiting teachers from 40 states around the U.S. to serve in classrooms in JCPS and the surrounding districts. Please support our efforts to bring enthusiastic and innovative teachers like Sara to our local public school students. Make your donation to Teach Kentucky today!