In September, it was announced Indian Mills Memorial School reached the silver tier certification, and Indian Mills School received bronze for 2019.
District Technology Coordinator Nelson Vasquez said the application process started three years ago when the district formed teams in each of the two buildings to review what the curriculum covers, how students are being taught and what can be done to improve it.
“We thought, if we gathered individuals from every facet of the building, we should be able to come up with a sound solution to become certified for the district,” Vasquez said.
The teams consisted of Vasquez, Superintendent Christine Vespe, principals, guidance counselors, students, director of curriculum, a board of education member, the district’s business administrator and teachers.
According to Future Ready Schools, the certification for the state’s schools assess how they adequately prepare students for the digital age and promote leadership.
Future Ready is nonprofit that works with New Jersey Institute of Technology, the state Department of Education and school boards association to implement some of the strategies in schools.
IMS started its participation in the program this year, however, IMMS improved its certification level from bronze to silver.
“You have one member of the team on the rewards committee and they critique your cohorts and they may not only be in South Jersey, they could be in North Jersey,” Vasquez said. “This gives you the ability to see what’s working in other districts, and to also bring those facets into our districts to make it be successful.”
The district started using a new inventory management system for all of the devices it has to pinpoint what’s aging out and what needs to be upgraded or replaced. Vasquez, who handles it, said he recently used it to locate the oldest SmartBoards, and replaced them with SmartPanels.
“We also created a budgetary plan because it also incorporates budgeted materials and how we can build on what we already have and support that for years to come,” he said. “Currently, I have a three-year plan on how and when I’m going to replace equipment in the building off of that inventory. It’s my bible.”
For the students’ education, Vespe added they were given more materials to use in the robotics area of IMMS’s Open Media Center along with other tools.
She added that students have begun to explore different aspects of robotics they haven’t done in the past, thanks to the certification program and the actions the district took to achieving each level.
“That’s important all the way from elementary to middle school,” she said. “That is encouraged and is one of the things I think Future Ready stands for which is to allow kids to be creative and think outside of the box.”
“We do collaborate with Seneca, specifically with their robotics staff,” Vasquez said. “We’re in talks to guide what we do here in robotics, to the high school so it can be fluid. It will also help us teach some of the big building blocks of what they’re doing there.”
Apart from students, the duo said teachers and staff were given more opportunities to collaborate with one another during the certification process, which made teamwork come more naturally to the educators.
“If they’re doing something that may have been highlighted before or were in Future Ready when we started the process, other teachers can learn from them and share ideas so that more of them are doing it and more students are getting exposed to it,” Vespe said.
The program, Vasquez added, helped the district teach students more soft skills in an innovative way as many of the children advance to a new grade level such as presentation skills, how to teach to others and digital citizenship.
“It’s how you should act on social media or proper use of the device and what you should do,” Vasquez said. “It’s to teach them that if there’s something out there on the web, it can be there forever.”
With the certification of Future Ready Schools and its rubric changes each year, Vasquez said the district cannot start preparing for the next level in certification until around February.
Despite not knowing what the new requirements will be, the two agreed the program helps the district move into the 21st century and teach to students who are consumed by technology.
“They have to be prepared for the outside world,” Vespe said. “Our job is to prepare our students. This is a good time to do that.“