Kindles and iPods work well as incentives for middle schoolers.
The Qualified Zone Academy Bond brought a whole lot of money to Warren County School District for renovations at two schools.
The money - about $30 million - is so low-interest, the district anticipates paying back less than it borrowed.
But, there were strings attached.
To qualify for QZAB, the district had to partner with the National Education Foundation in providing an online computing component to its educational process at Beaty-Warren Middle School and Eisenhower Middle High School, the two buildings with QZAB projects.
The district was already offering an online component - through Pearson Successmaker at the elementary and middle levels and Pearson NovaNet at the high school level - and continues to do so at all schools.
"It's an instructional software program for elementary ed and middle school students," Academic Teacher Coach Jen Dilks said of Successmaker. "It adapts to the student's individual learning needs for mastery of essential reading and math concepts and provides outcomes-based data for teachers to use to inform their instruction in the classroom."
When NEF came to the district, the company was using a different software. "We convinced NEF to go with Successmaker," Director of Administrative Support Services Amy Stewart said.
Keeping the software provides continuity in the instruction. "This is a product we've had for years," Dilks said.
"The teachers have been trained on this," Misty Weber, principal of both alternative education for disruptive youth and online learning, said. "We have lead teachers. They've trained with Pearson."
"It targets those areas of difficulties... areas students are struggling with," Dilks said.
"It constantly provides that mixed practice," Stewart said. "It's a beautiful supplement to instruction."
Students may work on Successmaker during school, though not during their core classes. Some can access the software from home, but that access depends on the computer and connection they have available, Stewart said.
Under the NEF program, Successmaker is used more and in some different ways, according to Dilks.
One of the most visible differences is the incentive program.
"We want to have students have 24 hours in the system over the course of the school year," Weber said. "If you have a student in for at least 24 hours, they should make a year's progress."
Based on each student's needs, those hours will either be in math or reading. Students are welcome and encouraged to put in hours on their secondary subject, but the 24 are in the identified area of need.
Dilks, Weber, and representatives from NEF got together to figure out how to encourage kids to put in the hours.
"We met with students from each building, teachers, and administrators to brainstorm what would motivate our students," Weber said.
The kids want personal electronic devices.
NEF will give away two items to students at each grade level at both schools every nine-week grading period. Only sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at each school are eligible.
"In November, we gave away a Kindle Fire and an iPod Touch at each grade level and each school," Weber said.
Students won chances at the items by completing time on the Successmaker system. At six hours in their core subject, they received one chance. Each additional hour, in either reading or math, earned another chance.
The items to be given away will vary, but will feature at least one "larger, techy item," Dilks said.
The next grading period ends Jan. 18. "The kids are really starting to get excited about what they could possibly get through the incentives," Weber said.
There are also incentives at the group and class level. If every student in an advisory group reaches six hours, that group will have a pizza party. The same group can win a second "snack" party if every student puts in six hours on their secondary subject.
If an entire grade at either school averages six hours per student, that class will have some kind of celebration. "A dance, Wacky Olympics, Minute to Win It, Great Race activities... something that will get the kids excited and celebrate their accomplishment," Weber said.
All of the incentives are funded by NEF. The district is not paying for them. The district does pay for the Successmaker software as it has in the past.
"Warren County School District is being the incentive model for the nation," Dilks said.
"There are a lot of other academies," Weber said. "NEF is looking for us to be the leader."
Other than the lost learning opportunity and not qualifying for individual and group incentives, there are no consequences for students who do not reach six hours in a grading period or 24 hours in a year.
Over the next two weeks, students will have a chance to win some additional chances at the next drawing.
The district will host informational meetings from 6 to 6:30 and 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Eisenhower, and from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Beaty. The Beaty meetings include an introduction to 4Sight testing.
At the meetings, experts will present information and be available to answer questions on the Successmaker program and the incentives. A new Parent Academy program is also on the agenda.
District officials ask that those who plan to attend pre-register so their children's information will be ready when they arrive. Students can earn up to three extra chances - one for the student, and one each for up to two parents - toward the next incentive for attending the meeting.