Monday, August 25, 2014 - 5:28pm

New Mexico strives to close education gap

Monica Cortez-KTSM
Special Reports

POSTED: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 11:15pm

UPDATED: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 11:57pm

The land of enchantment is ranked last in the nation when it comes to education.

As alarming as the statistics may be, New Mexico educators and administrators said they are working to close the education gap.

Nonprofit, Annie E. Casey Foundation looked at a number of factors involving a child's well-being such as economic conditions, health and education.

The results show New Mexico is the worse state in the nation.

A closer look at the numbers show nearly 80 percent of the students' reading skills were below proficiency.

Teachers are now turning to technology to improve results. Middle school students get ready for their English class everyday using clickers.

They sign in and use the gadgets for class participation.

"So when they get it right, they are engaged,” said 7th grade Hatch Valley English Instructor David Libby. “Not just with clicking and pushing a button, but they are excited about it ‘yes we got it right,’ or in the other extreme, ‘oh no we got it wrong,’ so its that immediate feedback, that immediate satisfaction."

Libby received a grant to pay for the clickers.

They work much like a video game controller, different buttons work for different commands.

Students are able to answer questions with a push of a button; answers are revealed shortly after.

"That's how all of us feel, whenever we see it we are like darn, or yes we got it, and we will push each other to do it next time and yeah," said 7th grade Hatch Valley student Jonah Madrid.

Libby is the only professor with this kind of technology in Hatch, but said once the district sees how beneficial these gadgets can be, more money may be allocated in the budget.

"It comes down to funding really, either you have to apply for a grant or a teacher will have to pay for this system themselves out of pocket. I've seen the value I've been using this for six years now and I can't imagine running my classroom without the technology in there."

Across the hall, English teacher Kamolparn Higgins also has a form of technology, which makes it fun for her students to learn.

"I think the students get excited about coming up and um they are a little bit more engaged I've noticed when um I bring out the smart board lessons," she said.

Students can actively participate using the smart board by touching the screen and dragging words to answer questions.

"It doesn't even smell as bad as the markers,” said 6th grade student Mackenzie Dunnahoo. “I like that part better too, it’s just better than a regular white board."

About thirty minutes down the road, students in Las Cruces also have a few gadgets of their own.

The Mesilla Valley Alternative Middle School has An interactive table, which looks much like a giant iPad.

Students can use their fingers to complete their assignments. One professor said it can capture every student's undivided attention.

"All of our students are engaged in the classroom almost of every minute of every class,” said Special Education Instruction Robert Walraven.

“So when I take that and I compare it to a the traditional model and take a step back and look at ‘ok just based on engagement? Do I have a better chance of learning the content area I am teaching them?’ Absolutely.”

The device also helps students visualize the lesson plan and makes it easier to understand classwork.

To enhance their experience, every student in this school has his/her own iPad in the classroom.

"It's very unique from other schools like Vista,” said Mesilla Valley Alternative Middle School student Hector Amado. “We have different technology like the active table and iPad, usually things that other kids aren’t able to use."

State education officials said these schools are on the right track. New Mexico is pushing for this new way of learning to take place throughout the state.

"I think it’s a great way to support our students and our districts are really starting to think in creative ways about how they can use technology tools to help advance student learning," said Leighann Lenti, Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program at the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Lenti said the education department is hoping the state approves the millions of dollars requested to help add more technology.

"This year we requested an additional 5 million dollars to continue supporting that work,” she said. “So we are hopeful the legislature will fund that request so we can continue to help our schools get ready to implement technology based learning to support their students.”

One student already knows what he would like to see improved in his district.

"To have better computers, because these are so old and they glitch a lot, I guess, so it’s hard to do work on the computers," said 8th grade Mesilla Valley Alternative Middle School Dillan Carmona.

In Hatch, results included higher test scores and improved assessments.

Across the state, schools are adopting a new state test called PARCC that will require completion online.

Both Las Cruces and hatch hope to get more resources to take the test and do their part to help raise the state's low rating.

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