More than 75 percent of the students at the Belding Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois, US, live at or below the US poverty line. In the students’ homes, more than 40 different languages are spoken, and more than 15 percent of the Belding students have limited to no English speaking abilities.
Despite economic and language barriers, in 2011, 82 percent of Belding Elementary students met or exceeded Illinois standardized assessment scores – putting the school in a position to be a model neighborhood school, and a blueprint for other schools’ success.
Last year, during IBM’s Centennial Celebration of Service, an IBM Catalyst Grant was awarded to the school that will lay the foundation for Smarter Education resources to help improve the quality of learning for Belding students who already show promise for high achievement despite their limited resources. IBM volunteers designed a project to create a technology blueprint for Belding and provide a framework for Belding teachers to use analytical software to assess student performance and develop and execute individualized learning plans for students, as well as involving students' parents in the learning process and creating a positive learning environment. The funds from the Catalyst Grant were used to purchase new technology equipment for the school.
“I am passionate about the impact a quality education can have on our generation of children,” says Christine Parker, IBM Counsel for the central US region, and the service leader on the Belding Elementary project. “I believe that with a core of committed parents and community members such as IBM can provide, and with the education tools that IBM has to offer, we could be instrumental in transforming the education experience of our children in public schools within the staffing and time constraints impressed upon them.”
The grant funds were used primarily to purchase laptop computers for use by the teachers and students in the classrooms. For the students, these computers have facilitated a level of differentiation of learning based on the individual student's ability. For example, during a daily "centers" time, the teacher can permit students who are learning English as a second language to use the computers independently with a program focusing on their English language skills, while the teacher is working with accelerated learners in smaller groups. Then the students rotate, and the accelerated learners can use the computers to work on advanced math or vocabulary software, while the teacher spends more focused time with students who need extra reading attention. The goal is to have two to three computers in every classroom for use by students and one laptop in each classroom for teachers to use to track student progress on the software programs.
So far this year, Christine logged over 85 hours of volunteer time at the school, which made it possible for her to get a $3,000 IBM Community Grant which is being used to help meet the Belding Elementary School’s technology needs.
Christine Parker and IBM volunteers work to help transform the public education experience.
Heather Yutzy, Principal of Belding Elementary School, noted, "The IBM funds allowed Belding to take a giant step forward technologically. Students are using the computers for individualized learning. Each week students use several different online programs which give them targeted practice at their exact instructional levels. You will see students using the laptops to access information and create presentations of their learning. Students at Belding are becoming better equipped to use technology as a tool for learning and communicating their learning. More teachers are using their laptops and projectors to deliver interactive, multimedia presentations which engage students. There has also been a dramatic surge in collaborative planning with technology: shared calendars, file sharing, collaborative writing of lesson plans. We are also accessing online assessment tools to dig deeply into what our students know and do well, and to target instruction in areas where our students struggle. Easy access to computers makes all of these things possible. Thank you to IBM!"
A neighborhood with promise
When Christine and her husband were looking for a neighborhood to call home in the Chicago area, they saw enough potential in Belding Elementary – a visionary principal, teachers who were invested in their students’ lives, and upward-trending test scores – that they chose to move to the area and send their children to school there.
“My husband and I wanted our children to attend, and personally wanted to invest our time and resources in a neighborhood public school that had a student population which was diverse both in terms of racial and socio-economic backgrounds,” Christine says. “We realized that while we are blessed to be able to have our choice of schools, many families in Chicago don’t have that option.” Using her legal background and experience, Christine formed Friends of Belding, a not-for-profit project development and fundraising arm for the school. She serves on the board of directors at the not-for-profit, participates in the PTA, and her husband serves on Belding's Local School Council. In June 2011, she worked with IBM, Chicago Cares and Belding Elementary to help mobilize 100 IBM employees and friends for a day of service at Belding Elementary. They painted Belding's 100-year-old hallways and classrooms, created murals, and did landscaping and playground work. This was the first phase of the project.
Over the next year, IBM volunteers will consult with Belding's administration to determine how the school could benefit from using IBM analytical and predictive software tools, allowing Belding teachers to combine and streamline information to make informed decisions based on student data. IBM volunteers will train Belding staff and administration on the functionality of the software tools to enable teachers to predict risk factors to success, optimize intervention for at-risk students, and help students who meet educational standards to exceed those standards. The project will help Belding meet the needs of both academically advanced and academically challenged students through the development of individualized learning plans.
Ultimately, the work done by IBM volunteers at Belding Elementary will help the students score higher on standardized tests and increase their chances of acceptance at selective enrollment high schools. If successful, Belding’s model could be used to help other public schools offer better learning opportunities.
“It is my firm belief that upon completion of this entire project, the blueprint and learning for each phase could be documented, so that the project could be replicated at other public schools in Chicago and even at other public schools around the country,” Christine says.