What Is a 21st Century Learning Environment?

What Is a 21st Century Learning Environment?
Posted on 10/17/2014

Over the past several weeks meetings have been held in the School District of the Menomonie Area to update our school district’s strategic plan and continue “The Great Conversation” with our schools and community. School officials have engaged school district stakeholders in an effort to ensure that our resources are well aligned with the expectations of our community.  This week’s column will focus on the Technology and Facility goals included in the strategic plan.

There is no shortage of ideas for how school districts can adapt to provide students with a more modern learning environment.  Schools are expected to help students become better prepared for their futures, while meeting increased expectations related to safety, security, and energy efficiency. Continuing to operate with a model that was designed for the past or even the present is not an option when many of the jobs that our students are preparing for do not even exist today. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor, 65% of today’s students will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created. Common recommendations for providing a 21st Century learning environment involve improving access to various technologies and providing updated facilities that promote a more comfortable setting designed to promote increased collaboration and communication. Through support from the community and collaboration with school district stakeholders, the School District of the Menomonie Area has made tremendous strides in each of these areas, while still maintaining the rigor and relevance of more traditional methods.

Much has been celebrated with the opening of our newly remodeled facilities in Downsville and River Heights elementary schools. The buildings are now safer and they both are equipped with systems that promote quality and efficiency. The geothermal heating system at Downsville, the collaborative learning spaces at River Heights, and the secured entrances in both schools are good examples of improved features in our remodeled facilities. Even changes as small as water fountains with bottle-filling faucets are changes that make our facilities more attractive and up-to-date.

There are many other facility needs in our school district that are being addressed by the recent referendum.  The ongoing renovation of Menomonie High School, scheduled work on the HVAC systems at Wakanda and Oaklawn elementary schools, the replacement of boilers and the roof at Menomonie Middle School, and the installation of a generator back up of our network servers at the Administrative Service Center are much needed improvements that will be completed in the near future. The addition of a running track and soccer/lower level football field, along with improvements to the softball and baseball fields at Menomonie High School, will provide our students and community much more access to quality facilities once enough funds are raised by the Sports Complex Committee.

With technology, our school district now enjoys a robust infrastructure. We now have a state-of-the-art network that includes public and controlled wireless access in nearly all parts of our facilities. Many of our staff members have become proficient in integrating new technologies while instructing students, and we have many powerful devices including computers, chromebooks, iPads, SmartBoards, and document cameras. Our school district has improved our website and we now have more powerful messaging capabilities for communicating with parents, students, and other stakeholders via automated phone calls, text messages, email, and through the use of social media. 

While our school district is already piloting 1-to-1 student-to-computer learning in sixth and seventh grade, we are still studying the potential benefits and costs of implementing 1-to-1 across the school district. Currently, we have stationary and/or mobile computer labs in all of our buildings, and some iPad stations in our elementary schools. There are some blended and virtual online learning options for our middle and high school students, but this is an area that our school district has targeted for improvement. Other primary goals in the area of technology include the completion of the fabrication lab at MHS, ongoing professional development in the area of technology for our staff, and a solution for the current bandwidth limitations at Knapp Elementary School.

There have been many improvements in the facilities and technology in our school district, and there are many ambitious goals for the future. Additional recommendations from the teams working on other areas of the strategic plan will be included in upcoming editions of this School Crossings column. Also, a summative report of all recommendations for updating the strategic plan will be presented to the school board at a meeting scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 24, 2014. Should anyone wish to provide additional input, or if you are unable to attend the scheduled meetings, please feel free to send your comments to my attention at the Administrative Service Center located at 215 Pine Avenue NE in Menomonie.