Mayor shows off classrooms of the future at West High
Myamilet Santiago, a West High School senior, takes part in a remote classroom with groups of students from Memorial and Central high schools on Thursday. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)
Gatsas was accompanied by state Education Commissioner Viriginia Barry and School Superintendent Tom Brennan as he visited an economics class that uses a video screen to connect three West students to their counterparts at Memorial and Central high schools, forging together a single class.
Then he visited a computer lab where 10 students were taking online classes.
"This is another educational opportunity we offer the students of Manchester so we can broaden their horizons and get them the educational opportunities of the future," Gatsas said.
At the computer lab, he acknowledged donations from three area businesses that total $37,500. Officials used the funds to purchase computers and video equipment for the three high schools, as well as to provide faster Internet connections in the computer labs.
Brennan thanked the business representatives as well as Gatsas. "If it weren't for you," he told Gatsas, "none of this would have happened."
In making the announcement at West, Gatsas traveled to the home turf of Patrick Arnold, the West Side alderman who is challenging him for mayor.
"I'm glad to see the mayor is taking a look at finally moving the school district forward," Arnold said. He said Gatsas lacks vision for education, and the schools are hurt financially when the city spends too much money on projects such as the long-delayed Innoprise software overhaul.
Two separate high-tech learning styles were on display Thursday.
One involved online video links that gave the three West students entre into a Central economics course. However, the audio was scratchy, which Central Principal Ron Mailhot apologized for.
"There's some technical glitches," said Jasmine Bergeron, a Memorial student. "We're going to get used to it, and it's going to be like any other class."
A mammoth video monitor allowed the West students to see both the Central and Memorial classrooms and vice versa. The teacher doesn't use a white board, but can put videos and graphics on a screen for students.
West senior Zach Ziemba said he would have preferred to be in a traditional class.
"I don't know how you're going to do this in the future." Ziemba said. If students don't behave, the classes will not work, he said.
The instruction taking place at the computer lab involves coursework through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. Most work is done on a computer, and a teacher only becomes involved via phone or email when students have questions, or when they are ready for tests.
Ten students sat in front of new 4 GB RAM-memory computers. They replaced computers with a memory capacity of 256 megabites.
Students said they liked the flexibility of the coursework.
"I think it's easier (than a regular class)," said Kaitlyn Nadeau, a senior who used VLACS to recover credits and get up-to-date on her coursework. In a traditional class, if Nadeau doesn't understand something, she can't stop the class, she said.
With VLACS, if Nadeau doesn't understand something, she can take a break and research it, she said.
"If you're in class and you don't understand something, it's not like you can pull out a computer," she said.
Acting West Principal Keith Puglisi said self-pacing is a big selling card for VLACS. It's difficult for a teacher to give a lot of individual attention to large classes, he said.
"You have 30 kids and one teacher, that's a daily struggle for any educator," he said.
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