North Daviess Closes the Book on Outdated Education
Nestled in an isolated rural community in the southwestern corner of the state, Daviess County is usually recognized for its rolling fields and Amish community rather than its status as a leader in educational innovation. However, North Daviess 21st Century High School continues to make headlines as one of the most exemplary New Tech implementation sites in the nation. Not only is this school leading its community’s integration of technology, it also is leading the nation as the smallest school to implement a computer-based “living textbook” program—and it has done so faster than any other school in the United States.
Living textbooks are mini-laptop computers that students use instead of regular textbooks to access locally created project-based content. Rather than subscribing to curriculum services like many other schools, North Daviess uses the computers to support the project-based learning approach by allowing teachers and students to guide lesson content.
“We wanted to focus on the needs of our students and go beyond what normally occurs in the classroom,” Todd Whitlock, technology coordinator for North Daviess Community Schools, said.
This approach to learning enables teachers to create more customized, dynamic and relevant lessons for their students rather than being tethered to stagnant textbook information.
“Now each class has their own ‘need to knows’,” Jed Jerrels, principal of North Daviess 21st Century High School, explained. “So what’s in one period may be different from another—that really helps with advanced and remedial students.”
While North Daviess prides itself on being a “break from tradition,” the school still utilizes textbooks to supplement classroom learning.
“We never did away with textbooks—that’s a misconception. We just don’t purchase new ones,” Whitlock explained. “We evaluate if we can use existing textbooks and just get information from the Internet.”
Administrators are so confident in the benefits of a technology-focused curriculum that the school district covers half the cost of the computers. Students then pay minimal fees toward the purchase of their computer rather than textbook rental fees. Freshmen students pay only $55 per year and incoming sophomores pay $73.
“That’s another thing that sets us apart. Some schools charge the entire fee for the laptop prorated over four years. Our school corporation picks up half the cost and at the end of the four years students can take the laptops with them,” Whitlock said.
True to the values of New Tech, administrators hope the program will benefit the North Daviess community as a whole.
“We don’t expect that family members won’t use the computers,” Whitlock revealed. “By sending computers home with students we hope to increase technology literacy for all.”
North Daviess Community Schools began integrating technology into its curriculum almost a decade ago. Administrators expected some pushback from the rural community given its sizeable Amish population, but the venture has proven quite successful.
“About 10 percent of our junior high population is Amish. I speak in terms of junior high because most Old Order Amish students drop out at the eighth-grade level,” Jerrels explained. “We thought we would encounter some resistance, but we’ve had computers in our district for eight years now.”
In fact, the community has been very supportive of North Daviess’ transition to New Tech and even welcomed the resulting technological advances. According to Whitlock, some Amish families have installed generators in their horse barns to support the technology.
Visitors to Daviess County might think they have stepped into the past, but North Daviess 21st Century High School shows that when it comes to education, all children—regardless of faith or background—are being prepared for the future.
Published: March 2010