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New school year brings excitement to local districts

Officials at both Collins-Maxwell and Ballard schools are continuing area youth education much as they did last school year, while monitoring what can be improved for students in the 21st century.

Children are now exposed to more technology than at any other time in history, presenting both opportunities and challenges for faculty and administration.

At Collins-Maxwell, students in sixth - 12th grade have their own device that can be taken home for assignments and research. Elementary school students have access to the same technology in their classrooms.

“There’s no doubt that there’s been an explosion in technology,” said Collins-Maxwell Superintendent Jason Ellingson. “Today we’re seeing elementary students who carry cell phones and handheld devices because their parents want them to.”

Ellingson enjoys that there is information coming from different sources, giving students more chances to learn and apply what they’re being taught in the classroom.

As every parent likely knows, technology creates challenges as well.

“Of course there are challenges,” said Ellingson. “There’s the infrastructure of wireless access and how students interact with each other online. It’s easy to get on Facebook if you’re angry.”

To help teach students the ins and outs of online exploration, Melissa Goering, the school’s media specialist, teaches a 21st Century Skills class, including covering online etiquette.

Collins-Maxwell is also steering their curriculum toward more assignments that incorporate subjects into real world situations, then relate them to the material being covered in class. The school is also planning more service-learning projects to see if students are able to apply what they’re learning outside of the classroom.

“We’re going to a more systemic way of learning,” said Ellingson. “We’re focusing more on the individual interest of the student and connecting it to the standards they are supposed to follow. The students seem to be more engaged and we hope that positive data continues.”

Ellingson said that there have been discussions about upgrading the school’s infrastructure and possibly adding more classrooms on at the junior high/high school building in Maxwell, but plans have yet to be finalized.

Though there are always challenges, Ellingson is looking forward to the new school year unfolding.

“The energy level is very high, ” said Ellingson. “Whatever challenges we face along the way, we’ll face them together and learn from them. I’m very lucky to be here and work in this community - we have great staff and great students who want to learn and give back to the community.”

Even with all the changes, there are three big questions for educators, according to Principal John Ronca at Ballard High School in Huxley:

1. What do you want students to learn?

2. How do you know they’re learning it?

3. What do you do if they’re not?

The most significant development at Ballard is the multi-tiered support system, or MTSS as it’s referred to in the education community.

“We’ve been doing this before; it’s just a more intentionally planned process this way,” said Ronca. “We will put students on a level of intervention if they’re not learning the way we think they should be. If not we’ll intensify things for them.”

Ronca says that this system will help faculty and staff identify why a student is struggling - it could be different factors like something at home affecting their studies or a learning disability - and get that student back on the right track.

One way many students at Ballard stay on track by learning time management skills is by participating in extra-curricular activities.

“Studies have shown that if you’re involved in something, you’ll graduate,” said Ronca. “I’m proud that over 90% of our students are involved in some kind of activity.”

Ronca mentioned some personnel changes that will affect high school students. U.S. History teacher and boys’ basketball coach Chris Deason will be the dean of students this year, while former Ballard coach Mike Carr will come out of retirement to take the position of athletic director.

With the fourth school year in the new Ballard High School approaching, Ronca cites keeping the building secure during school hours as one of the district’s priorities. The school will be certified in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) procedures to help keep students, staff and anyone else in the building safe during a violent intrusion. The school will also monitor who enters and exits the building, and someone from the inside must buzz visitors in.

“We’re trying to do everything in our power to keep kids safe here,” said Ronca. “This is just another component to that umbrella.”

Ronca does not anticipate many challenges on the horizon for the 2014-2015 school year and is looking forward to seeing students in the halls again. While capacity of the building is roughly 700 students, Ballard has 560 students throughout high school this year.

“It’s always exciting to start a new school year,” said Ronca. “We have room to grow in our building and I’m just excited to be here for another great year.”

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