Friday, June 22, 2018
Education

Netbooks to help Pinellas students learn English

There are certain words found in the science classrooms of Oak Grove Middle School, which, even if you grew up speaking English, can sound a little strange.

If you weren't raised with English, a word like "galaxy" could stop you in your tracks: stop you from understanding an entire lesson, or from finishing your homework.

Trouble understanding words like "galaxy" is a problem Ibrahim Haddad, a shaggy-haired eighth-grader who moved to Clearwater from Baghdad in March, said he's hoping his new netbook will solve.

Oak Grove began distributing 160 Dell netbooks to English Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL students, on Friday. The school system spent $62,000 from a federal grant on software designed to help students learn English while tackling science, social studies, math and other core subject areas.

The middle school enrolls 116 ESOL students, but administrators eyed a larger number of laptops because the population is expected to grow significantly.

Although Oak Grove's enrollment has declined by nearly 200 in the past decade, the number of English-language learners has almost doubled from 66 in 2002-03.

"We're a piece of the pie that's growing, in a shrinking pie," said Natasa Karac, the ESOL program coordinator for Pinellas County schools.

School officials decided to pilot the netbooks at Oak Grove, where one in 10 students are English-language learners (the majority speak Spanish). Karac said administrators would monitor results of both the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and the Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment, possibly expanding into more schools next year.

The netbooks' signature software is called Tell Me More. After determining their level of expertise, students answer questions designed to improve their writing, reading and listening comprehension.

Not all the questions have right answers, so to speak. In one, students see a photograph of a young man, then hear an audio file ask: "What do you look like?"

They can respond by selecting "Like a human being, not like you!" or "Like myself!" They can also choose "Like a monster" (to which the computer replies, "You don't scare me.").

In other activities, students practice pronouncing words by recording their own speech.

Students received training on the programs at school on Tuesday. But to take home the computers, their parents were required to attend a two-hour session where they promised to return the netbooks in May.

School officials hope students' families will also use the netbooks to improve their English. One program on the computers guides parents through such tasks as acquiring car insurance and identifying "frauds and schemes."

Most of the netbook's programs can be used without an Internet connection.

Signing out a netbook is voluntary, and activities won't be graded. In fact, school officials won't be able to monitor whether students even open the software that doesn't require Internet. But LaSonya Moore, the assistant principal who oversees minority issues, says students are itching to use the netbooks.

"One young lady who doesn't have a computer at home, who gets here early to use the computers here and would like to stay late but can't because of transportation issues, has actually asked one of her teachers if she could borrow her laptop," Moore said.

Jhonny Pedraza, an eighth-grade student from Hidalgo, Mexico, said he hopes the netbook will help him speak more fluently. Pedraza, who sports a gelled Mohawk, said he gets nervous and doesn't speak up as much as he would like to in class.

After attending a training session with his mother and older brother, Haddad said he would regularly log in to Tell Me More.

His English was already coming along. When asked if any of the programs he saw demonstrated looked fun, the 13-year-old boy replied, "Actually, no."

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected]

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

DADE CITY —Just a few weeks into summer vacation, Pasco Middle School student Jade Neal, 14, was back at school, delving into a challenging STEM activity on force in motion, as the theme to Mission Impossible played in the background.The assignment? ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18