By KELCY DOLAN
When Governor Gina Raimondo visited the full day kindergarten classes at Hoxsie Elementary, she was so impressed with the students’ progress in only three days of school that she began offering students jobs in her office. She had no takers.
Raimondo visited kindergarten classes in Warwick and Providence on Friday to celebrate the start of school and get a firsthand look at some of the full-day programs the state has to offer.
The governor was joined by Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, interim superintendent William Holland, Director of Elementary Education Lynn Dambruch, and Mayor Scott Avedisian.
The first room she visited was Amy Dolan’s and the 23 kindergartners were set up at six different blended learning stations, using Chromebooks, iPads, computers, and listening headsets.
Blended learning is a new form of teaching instruction that uses multiple digital devices and online programs paired with teacher guidance to help students learn at their individual pace.
Raimondo said she is very supportive of blended learning because, “Every kid learns in a different way and at a different rate. This is really a tool to help teachers personalize and individualize education for better student success.”
This type of instruction has been increasing in Warwick according to both Dambruch and Holland, who expect blended learning to continue gaining popularity among teachers.
Holland said, “We need a lot of attention to this teaching style and less towards traditional teaching model.”
He believes Warwick could lead the way of integrating technology into the classrooms and noted that throughout the district there are some advanced teachers and some who are still learning the basics; however with more Chromebooks and the switch to Google, teachers have been engaged and excited to integrate this model in their own classrooms.
Holland believes the “greatest aspect” to technology integration is teachers’ ability to create and share with one another, to share best practices.
Those teachers who are ahead of the curve will be the focus of technology integration in Warwick and can point out those programs that have been successful and how beneficial it has been on a student level.
Dambruch believes the success of this instruction shift will be dependent on two things: a district-wide push, with professional development, as well as the “inspiration of colleagues.”
“This is already happening in pockets all over the district,” she said. “Everyone is at a different level, but teachers are more comfortable looking to peers as a learning resource. We can all learn from each other and grow as a district.”
She doesn’t expect the change to come in a day, but assured Warwick is on its way.
Gary McCoombs, the principal at Hoxsie, said that most of the teachers at the elementary school are very advanced in technology integration and he thinks in no time it’ll be the norm throughout the district.
“I think the governor was amazed at what these kindergartners could do on only the third day, things that’ll blow adults away. It’s not just gaming; these students are learning real skills,” McCoombs said.
Raimondo pointed out that Warwick had a lot to be proud of and she thought the classrooms she visited were “excellent.”
She said with the use of blended learning, students, even in kindergarten, are learning 21st century skills necessary to be prepared for higher education or the workforce.
“What we are seeing here is innovation. We are adapting our classrooms to make sure students have the skills and knowledge that will be most relevant and necessary for today,” Raimondo said. “Future employers should feel good that the Rhode Island education system is trying to meet their needs of today, not their needs from 20 years ago.”
Not only are future educators or employers benefiting, but students are also performing better and are more engaged in their own learning.
“You see their faces, on a Friday, the third day of school and they are into this. You don’t have to worry about tears because they are excited to be here and that changes everything for them,” Avedisian said.
He thought Warwick showed the governor what a model classroom should look like with “interactive and sensory oriented learning.”
Commissioner Wagner explained that because this form of instruction keeps students engaged, blended learning helps to personalize their education.
“Technology can match them on their learning level. Whenever they finish one thing, they can move on to the next in a way that isn’t possible in a traditional classroom,” he said.
Students, even at the kindergarten level, are also highly familiar with technology, Wagner pointed out. By using technology in the classroom, instruction probably mirrors the way students have learned up until their entrance into the school system.
“It feels more natural for them,” Wagner said. “We want students to become accustomed to using this technology for their educational careers; it will be part of their learning probably for the rest of their lives, so the technology should start when they start.”
Raimondo said, “To get students ready for college and the workforce, we need to lay the foundation in kindergarten and early years of education.”
As both a mother, and governor, she believes we must continue investing in early childhood education and said that after seeing the classrooms Friday, she knows budgeting for universal full-day kindergarten was money well spent.
She said, “I think they are doing a terrific job at this school.”