As Shannon Altena’s kindergarten students sat in a lopsided circle on Monday morning, each eagerly waved his or her hand in air, hoping to be called on.
“What’s the first thing we draw when we draw a picture of ourselves?” Altena asked.
“The head!” answered one little girl as she hopped off the rug and to what appears at first glance to be a run-of-the-mill classroom whiteboard. As she “drew” with a stylus rather than a pen and her marking were generated by a computer, not ink, it became clear that this was no polished piece of particleboard.
The interactive whiteboard – often simply referred to by the brand name, SmartBoard – is just one of many technological updates Newton Christian School has implemented over the course of the past year, due in part to a $25,000 grant from Windstream Communications.
“The big thing has been the interactive whiteboards in the classrooms,” Mary Patterson, NCS Dean of Students, said. “We’ve had teacher training and they’ve really changed the dynamic in the classroom. We get to try new things with these technological innovations. The technology has changed how you assess students and how you collaborate. You have a toolbelt as a teacher, and the boards are just another tool we can utilize.”
In addition to the whiteboards, the grant has also provided for laptops for students to help hone their 21st century skills.
As NCS embodies a more tech-saavy approach within its classrooms, that mindset has extended to its online presence as well.
“We had one of our parents re-do our website, and we’ve joined Facebook,” Patterson added.
While the implementation of new hardware has certainly helped to revamp the curriculum at NCS, teachers and administrators have not lost sight of the school’s core principles: academics, service and faith.
“Our motto is ‘Training to a higher standard,’ and we discussed in January what that really means academically, morally and spiritually,” Patterson said.
“We’ve always included the aspect of community service in our curriculum, and we stress that it’s not just teaching it, but it’s about living it out,” she explained. “We’ve visited several nursing homes, Progress Industries and even had a visitor from Mali, Africa, come talk to the kids. Community service isn’t something we just put in their heads, it’s something we do.”
“In terms of academics, a key word for us right now is “differentiation” – finding how each kid is wired suiting them that way,” she added. “We want to make sure that students who need a challenge are being challenged, and students who might need a bit more help get that support they need. It’s been a goal for us both in the short term and long range.”
Newton Christian School has recently implemented a more “middle school mindset,” for the upper grade levels, according to Patterson.
“It’s mostly letting them have more privileges and more responsibility,” she said. “We’ve also offered more exploratory classes for them like photography, woodworking and even cooking. We’d like to add more of those specialized classes for the upper grades as we move forward.”
These classes represent just one of the changes Patterson and her staff hope will attract new families and continue the upward trend in enrollement NCS has experienced in the past year.
“We ended last year with 50 students, and this year we have 65, so we’d like to see that growth continue,” she said. “Any day can be a visit day for prospective families. It’s a big decision for a parent to choose to pay the tuition to send their children here, so they can come visit for half a day or a full day to make sure it’s a a good fit for both the family and the student.”
“The best promotion we have is a satisfied parent base, she added. “When parents say, ‘this is great, send your kids here,’ it’s great for us and that’s how we attract families. One of our parents told us that we’re one of the ‘best-kept secrets in Newton,’ but we don’t want to be a secret.”
For more information on Newton Christan School, call (641)-792-1924 or log on to www.newtonchristianschool.com