Vision for the future

Three senior student members of the Vision 2020 committee from left are Ben Rabe, Mike Brzoska, and Ray Puckett at Genoa-Kingston High School on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.
Three senior student members of the Vision 2020 committee from left are Ben Rabe, Mike Brzoska, and Ray Puckett at Genoa-Kingston High School on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.

GENOA – It just stood to reason: If you’re going to discuss the future of technology in your school district, why not get input from the students who have grown up with it and probably know as much about it as anyone?

That’s what Phil Jerbi wondered.

During the final meeting of the Vision 20/20 committee last year, Jerbi noticed a number of different groups were represented – teachers, administrators, community leaders, even college professors – but no one younger than 19.

“It was kind of a natural fit,” he said.

The committee was formed by Genoa-Kingston School Superintendent Joe Burgess in October of 2011. Its purpose, Burgess said, is to discuss “what we want the classrooms in Genoa-Kingston to look like in the year 2020. We want to move forward and integrate technology in our curriculum.”

Among other things, Burgess said the committee is “talking about things that are out there that we don’t have yet that people have been successful with.” It has also visited other school districts that have implemented new technology, such as Geneseo and Marengo, to see how they’re operating.

“We aren’t trying to change the curriculum, just the way the curriculum is presented,” Jerbi said. “By the year 2020, we want our schools to be among the most technical in the nation.”

Jerbi, who serves on the committee as a parent, a high school staff member and an industrial tech, said the school district had been doing some vision planning when Burgess arrived two years ago. He turned the plans in a technological direction.

For the first meeting this year, Jerbi invited two of his advanced students, seniors Ray Puckett and Mike Brzoska, to sit in.

Burgess, who had encouraged committee members to invite others to attend, called it an “unintended consequence. It was better than anything we could have planned.”

After the meeting, the students were so enthusiastic, they asked to form a student Vision 20/20 subcommittee.

“This is a great way of getting our students involved in what we are doing,” Jerbi said. “I think they’re going to do great things. It’s another way to give our students ownership in their school and their community. It’s nothing but positive.”

The subcommittee consists of 20 students, five from each high school class. They will meet once on their own before meeting with the general committee near the end of November.

Calling it “a brainstorming group,” Jerbi said the students will discuss how they feel tech can be better utilized in the classroom. Aside from obvious subjects, he pointed out tech can be used in subjects like gym and history.

The ultimate goal is to make it better for students to learn in the 21st century.

“Kids don’t learn what they don’t want to learn,” Jerbi said. “We have to make if fun and interesting and tie it into their curriculum.”

Which may be a little challenging for some teachers.

“These kids have grown up with iPads in their hands,” Jerbi said. “We grew up with eight-tracks and vinyl. For us to teach with textbooks and chalk, it’s foreign to them. Kids don’t learn well out of textbooks. They have to get their hands dirty. These kids watch videos and then want to build something. Everything is eyes and hands. To teach kids with textbooks is stupid. It doesn’t work.”

In 20 years of teaching, Jerbi said this is the most excited he’s been about the curriculum in a long time – another goal of the Vision 20/20 Committee.

“There are some tough decisions,” Burgess said. “On the financial end of it, what do you want to spend your money on? Are you going to buy a $30 textbook or download a biology book that is interactive to the Internet that you can put on a tablet?...The problem with technology is the day you buy something it becomes obsolete. So what machines are going to be the workhorses?”

Besides the student committee, Burgess said the general committee has doubled in size and there are plans under way to partner with local businesses, beginning with Custom Aluminum.

“One of the big knocks on youth and education and business, for decades, is that kids aren’t prepared (to enter the work force),” Burgess said. The partnership is intended to address that by offering internships, scholarships and other benefits.

Burgess said he is “pleasantly surprised” by the progress the committee has made in its first year.

“It’s gone from ‘what is that group?’ to ‘I want to be a part of that group,’” he said. “I can’t ask for more.”

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