by Debbie Edwards
As one walks into this historic high school, it is clear to see that it is different. Lodged in the City of Highland Park, surrounded on all sides by the city of Detroit, Michigan, Highland Park Career Academy caters to 1,400 students, 16-19 years old. Many have left the traditional high school for a variety of reasons and see this as their “last stop” in the educational pipeline.
One would expect to find teachers struggling to get students excited about learning. One would expect to find students dreading going to class. But something is different about this school – at least in two specific classrooms.
Instead of trying to get students to come to class, these teachers are trying to get students to go home. Instead of finding students who are struggling to complete assignments and improve their achievement levels, these students are excelling. Instead of finding classrooms empty on days when students are not required to attend, these teachers find their classrooms bustling with students coming and going. Why?
“It is the technology. Jim and Chuck from QWK2LRN are our heroes,” said Ms. Ashford, who teaches English at the Academy. “When Jim approached us and asked if he could bring 30 computers into my room for me to use, I looked at him and thought this isn’t going to work – it is going to be more hassle than it is worth. But I relented and he brought them in,” she said with a smile on her face.
When asked why this technology was different, she replied “because it works ALL the time … not just some of the time … but all the time. If and when it ever goes down we have usually found the problem to be that someone unplugged it. Whether it is going to be running or not is not an issue, so I can plan my lessons and know that each and every student will have a computer that works – ALL the time. They aren’t slow and aren’t bogged down with software problems. They don’t have virus or spyware problems. They work.”
But Ms. Ashford indicated it goes beyond just learning English; it has been a lifeline for some students. “I had one student who was living in the park. He didn’t have a phone number or an address. But, because he had an email address through QWK2LRN’s virtual student desktop, he was able to submit a resume, get a response and ultimately get a job.” She stopped and sighed, saying, “Now, that is life changing.”
After talking with a few more teachers and watching students come and go, we walked over to the other side of the high school to find Ms. Lenchner, a math teacher, working with several students – on a day when school was NOT in session. Her classroom sat in what used to be the library. The ceilings were tall and the computers sat in cubicles throughout the room.
She smiled and said to QWK2LRN founder, Jim Hare, and the group: “These desks aren’t the best but they will work for the short term. The technology, though, is wonderful. My students absolutely love coming to class and working on algebra – can you believe that?” She asked, slightly shaking her head and smiling. “And, I love to teach using this technology.”
Again, we heard the same story that we had heard from Ms. Ashford. “The computers are always up and running. My students come in, sit down at a computer and quickly become engaged in learning math. And, these are students who before coming to this class would have told you that there is no way they could do math. Yet, here they sit, with this technology, not only doing math but loving math – and excelling at it.”
She went on to tell us that her excitement was not only fueled by her students’ new found attitudes toward math but by their test scores. Showing us the recent pre-post test results for Algebra 1, she pointed out where one student pre-tested at a 16.2 percent in Algebra 1 and just recently took a post-test and scored 91.9 percent, using the QWK2LRN technology platform and the Carnegie Learning Math software.
“As we took a closer look at those test results, initially we thought this was probably an anomaly. But not the case: The lowest gain was 32 points with the highest gain being almost 60 points. It is nothing short of spectacular,” she said. “And the Algebra 2 scores are similar.”
When asked what she saw as the difference, Ms. Lenchner said, “The technology!” She said that the high school one mile down the road had the same software but through the year had seen no real gains. Why, we asked? “Because the reliability of their technology is spotty, at best. Sometimes their computers work and sometimes they don’t.
“Here in my classroom, I know they ALWAYS work. I can count on that and so can the students. Students come here every day knowing that they can jump on the computer and do their work. I come to school every day knowing that I can count on the technology working,” she said. “That is a wonderful thing!”
The final stop took us to the director’s office. Here Dr. Belvin Liles had a different slant on the QWK2LRN technology. “First, it works. Second, it is affordable, since the package includes the monitor, tower, keyboard, mouse, routers, and desk. Third, it is sustainable. If one of our students spills something on the keyboard, QWK2LRN has it replaced, immediately. If someone breaks a monitor, we get a new one. If there is a technical issue, QWK2LRN is right here to solve it. And all I have to pay is $100 a year for each machine.”
He then smiled, thought for a minute and said: “What it comes down to is the technology – it works! You can have the best possible software money can buy, but if you don’t have technology that works, you can’t use the software to its fullest. For us, what has made the difference is the consistency that the QWK2LRN technology platform offers.
“The high school down the road got the Carnegie math software at the same time we did. But, they haven’t yet realized the gains in math scores. The difference is they didn’t have QWK2LRN’s hardware. Bottom line, the technology helps our students get to where they need to be academically. It makes a difference in the lives of our students and our teachers,” he commented.
“And, on top of all this, it is affordable to purchase and dramatically less to keep going from year to year than other technology models. It allows them to develop their confidence and know that they can learn and do it well. It makes a difference in the lives of our students and our teachers. But most important is the fact that the technology enables our students to succeed where they haven’t succeeded before – just look at their scores.”
QWK2LRN was founded in 2002 by Jim Hare and Charles Hale, retired IBM and UNISYS technologists. Living in Detroit, they knew first-hand the challenges inner city schools were facing. Knowing the power behind technology, they were committed to developing an affordable and effective model that would transform the classroom into a technology-rich learning environment.
For the past six years they have been working through the support of the startup incubator program at Wayne State University’s Research Park to develop a unique and revolutionary model for 1:1 computing and/or connecting the classroom through technology. Partnering with IBM, the model they are able to offer provides greater reliability, speed, capability, safety, scalability and flexibility than any previous laptop or 1:1 computing model. It is affordable to acquire and install, at one third the cost of other 1:1 models, and requires few infrastructure changes for most schools. And, it is also easily maintained, at one tenth the cost of traditional 1:1 models, since the “thin client” model requires limited technical on-site support and offers a technology lifespan of 7-10 years.
Adding to the uniqueness of the model, QWL2LRN uses refurbished, existing PC inventories available at schools, learning centers or through business partners, reclaiming life in old and discarded systems. Add to this the fact that the model typically uses one third the power. Any school can “go green” with this revolutionary QWK2LRN technology platform.
Carnegie Learning is a leading publisher of core, full-year mathematics programs as well as supplemental intervention applications for middle school, high school and post-secondary students. Their Cognitive Tutor® programs provide intelligent software tutoring for each student, combined with text and teacher-led classroom instruction. They currently offer curricula for algebra readiness, algebra, geometry, integrated math and state exam preparation.
For more information, contact Director Belvin H. Liles Jr., Highland Park Career Academy, Glendale at Second, Highland Park, MI 48203, (313) 957-3007, fax (313) 852-0206.
Debbie Edwards is a freelance writer and QWK2LRN consultant with over 20 years experience in marketing and business development as well as extensive experience in curriculum development, secondary and collegiate teaching. She can be reached through QWK2LRN, 254 Market Square, Lake Forest, IL 60045, (847) 482-0862, firstname.lastname@example.org.