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The Threats of Personalized Technology: Are You Doing All You Can to Protect Your Child?

It’s no secret that students are more digitally engaged than ever before. With technology at their fingertips at home and in the classroom, today’s children are “digital natives” — having used computers, tablets, and smartphones from a very early age.

While technology provides powerful learning opportunities, parents and educators alike are becoming more aware of the threats at hand when young ones enter the online space. With personalized profiles, unique accounts, and custom online experiences, protecting a child’s safety and identity requires some extra leg work. 

That’s why we compiled this list of tips. At GRACE Christian School, we want to help parents find the balance between personalized technology and security, allowing their children to take advantage of online tools — without being taken advantage of.

Create New Accounts with Care

When downloading a new app or creating a new account, your child will likely be asked for a great deal of personal information. While some information might be required (such as name and an e-mail address), consider whether the value of customization outweighs the risks of oversharing. Some apps, especially those with a social component, may encourage a personal bio, photo, or other details. Be selective with what you share in these fields. Never share birthdays, school names, or hometowns.

Adjust Social Media Settings

While young students may not be using social media, pre-teens and teens are often heavily engaged with networking apps. Accounts should always be set to private. Sometimes, this has to be changed manually as many apps default to public profiles. Further, today’s apps often use location data — but you can disable this feature on your smartphone or tablet settings. Remind your student to use secure passwords and never, ever share them with others, even close friends.

Monitor Closely

Today’s parents have a great deal of responsibility; not only do you have to monitor your child’s physical life, you must be involved with their digital lives as well. While it may seem like a chore, it’s important to stay educated about the platforms your child is using, the people they’re connecting with, and the conversations they’re having. The risks of predators, cyberbullying, and other negative activities are very real. Never think of monitoring as an invasion of privacy; your involvement now could prevent long-term challenges. 

Foster Open Communication

Consider ways to connect with your child about their online experiences. For younger students, setting age-appropriate limits and maintaining a balanced approach to technology use may be enough. As students get older, they can understand some of the dangers such as identity theft, malware, and cyber stalkers. The most important thing, at any age, is that your kids feel comfortable coming to you if they encounter an issue online, and that they know you’re there to help.

Limit Overall Time Spent Online

It adds up quickly! Studies show that some children spend six hours a day online. This can significantly impact a child’s development physically, and new research says that excessive internet use is tied to issues like anxiety and depression. Parents themselves can model healthy relationships with technology by limiting their own use and encouraging screen-free time in the evening.

Partner With Your School

Parents are not the only ones with a great deal of responsibility in today’s ever-changing world. Schools have a to protect student data and ensure children at all grade levels are using technology safely in the classroom. Don’t hesitate to ask schools how they maintain a secure network, protect students’ identities, and monitor students as they interact with tablets and computers for learning purposes. GRACE Christian School launched it’s 1:1 laptop program in 2010 and has extensive experience in harnessing the benefits of technology in the classroom while simultaneously teaching our students how to be good digital citizens.

Free E-Book for Parents

Raising children in today’s digital-driven world is a big job. It’s important to choose a school that is equally committed to your student’s safety — in every sense of the word. If you’re looking for a private school, download our free e-book, Start Smart, for more tips on choosing wisely.

 

The Power of Mentors: 7 Ways Student Success Is Tied to Strong Teacher Relationships


Have you noticed how frequently the word “Influencer” is used these days? It often refers to celebrities paid to influence their social media followers to buy a product. But for parents seeking to raise healthy kids who love the Lord and succeed in school, the kind of influencers valued are 
godly role models who serve as mentors. That’s one of the distinct benefits parents can find in a private Christian school.

  1.  Brain-Based Research Supports It
    Scientific studies have demonstrated that a teacher’s sincere encouragement can substantially impact a student’s likelihood of success. When a student feels a teacher likes and cares about them, there’s a direct correlation to achievement. Conversely, when teachers demonstrate a lack of confidence in a student’s abilities, students feel defeated and begin to doubt themselves.
     
  2.  Alumni Affirm the Difference Teachers Makes
    In our May 2018 blog, Moving Forward Together: Reflections From the Senior Class, student after student referenced the life-changing ways in which teachers spurred their success. Graduates shared reflections about treasured teacher relationships:
  • “I know that I can come to her with any educational, goal-oriented, or personal problem.”
  • “In the end I was able to succeed in the class, and I can truly say that it gave me better study habits and a drive for education.”
  • “Because of them I know I am well prepared for my college experience. Academically and spiritually, I am equipped for life’s challenges.” 
  1.  Teachers Are in Sync with Parents
    Another great advantage of the Christian school model is that the home and the school are typically working in harmony. Parents’ goals for their children’s spiritual and social well-being are in sync with those of the teachers. That can’t help but provide a greater sense of security for the student and promote an atmosphere that acts as an incubator for success.
  1.  Christian Teachers Reinforce Biblical Values
    Whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the practice hall, students need a team of mentors who model and reinforce biblical values. When students experience adults in these important roles who are serving, worshiping, praying, and applying biblical principles to everyday life, it makes a memorable difference. As one recent GRACE grad noted about a coach: “He facilitated growth in my faith, my compassion for others, and my leadership abilities while also making me realize I can do anything I set my mind to if I am willing to put the work in.”
  1.  Students See Love in Action
    Former GRACE Librarian and Technology Coach Laura Warmke shared from her own five years of experience: “Loving community at GRACE means teachers actually caring about their students as whole people, not just how they behave in their classrooms. Loving community means each student finding a place at GRACE, and faculty who see encouraging students as part of their job. Loving community means coworkers and the administration sacrificially loving each other.” 
  1.  Prayer Deepens the Relationship
    Don’t underestimate the power of a praying teacher! When faculty, staff, and administrators demonstrate a commitment to pray for students, there’s no telling what God will do! It’s important to find a Christian school where students know that they can share prayer needs with teachers who will pray with them and for them.  
  1.  Strong Teacher Relationships Bring Hope
    Positive relationships with teachers can help students sort through the many confusing messages they receive through media and popular culture. In a world filled with hopelessness, teachers who know Christ and integrate biblical values throughout their classes are better able to help bring hope and positive direction to a student’s life.GRACE Christian School is a loving community that genuinely cares for each and every student in a personal manner. It’s a place where every student has worth and value.If you’re a prospective parent searching for a private Christian school in the Raleigh, NC, area, download our Right Fit Admissions Packet to learn more.

Why All Kids Should Color: The Link Between Coloring and Early Childhood Development

Perhaps you’ve noticed the resurgence of coloring books – and they’re not just for kids these days! Many adults and teens are reconnecting with the enjoyable and calming effect that coloring can have after a busy day of work or school. But there’s so much more to coloring than just fun, especially in early childhood. There’s solid research to show that this hands-on activity helps early learners achieve the critically important physical and cognitive development they need for success.

A Meaningful Alternative to Screen Time
While we’ve enthusiastically embraced digital technology, we know that students also need to develop fine motor skills. That’s an area that can be overlooked if early learners spend all their time swiping a screen. Coloring is one of the best activities to develop fine motor skills for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Those fine motor skills are essential when children are being taught the correct way to grip a pencil and to train small finger muscles that need to be developed in young children.

Coordination Is a Transferable Skill
In case you think coloring is only about artistic expression, think again! The coordination skills it instills extend to a variety of other activities. Catching a ball, fitting a jigsaw puzzle together, tying shoes, building with blocks, and cutting with scissors all require the kind of visual-motor integration that coloring develops.

Grow Their Concentration
Would your child benefit from a bit more focus? Parents often find that the calming nature of coloring is a welcome respite from the fast-paced, attention-bouncing nature of online activities. All children begin coloring with scribbling, but as their visual-motor integration increases, they’ll find increasing satisfaction in putting crayon to paper to represent people, places, objects, or activities.

Colors and Shapes are Foundational
Coloring also helps early learners classify objects by color and shape, a skill which leads to organizing their world in a logical manner. Asking them to describe what they’ve drawn will help kids build a rich vocabulary and pave the way for further language development. Sorting by color and shape characteristics, noting differences, and organizing effectively has a close relationship to mathematical reasoning as well!

Experiment in a Safe Space
Coloring is a safe way to experiment with different techniques and media. Whether students use crayons, colored pencils, or markers, they’ll see the effects right away. By exploring different stroke techniques and blending colors, children will develop a sense of pride and achievement. That’s true whether their creations are identifiable or not!

Engage the Whole Child!
Consider some of the creative ways that GRACE Christian School transitional kindergarten teachers have engaged students in developing both fine and large motor skills:

  •      Students color on giant-size paper, spreading out whatever way they were comfortable to draw very large pictures!
  •      Kids color on paper taped to the wall, challenging their arm and shoulder muscles and building upper body strength.
  •      Students color while on their stomachs –– tricky for kids who typically move their entire arm to color or write.  Fine motor coordination and strength increased as they were forced to move only their fingers.
  •      By decorating small plaster of Paris bricks they had made for a Bible unit, students further honed their use of fine-motor skills.

The cornerstone of a GRACE Elementary School education is developing a love for learning and a love for the Lord! GRACE administrators, faculty, and staff are enthusiastic advocates for children, equipping them for life. They’ve created a helpful e-book that shows how Raleigh area parents can give their child the very best start on the educational journey.

Download your free copy of the 4 Pillars of Kindergarten Readiness!

From the Head of School

Life on the GRACE campus during summer months is anything but quiet. On any given day, students enrolled in summer camp load buses for an excursion; the operations staff cleans, paints, polishes, restores, and renovates our three campus buildings; administrators work in their offices on projects that have been waiting for their attention; athletes practice and push themselves, investing in sweat equity that will pay dividends down the road; and teachers pop in randomly to say hello and pick up supplies for their own summer projects. Summer marks the conclusion of one school year and provides the prologue to the next. At GRACE, we have a lot to be thankful for from the 2017-18 year, and a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year. 

The 2017-18 school year provided a number of highlights for the GRACE community, including record enrollment and record participation in the Annual Fund. Students across both campuses participated in weekly chapel services, Bible studies, service projects, and retreats. This week, a team of 24 students and staff members are participating in a mission trip to Costa Rica. Over eighty percent of our middle & high school students participated in GRACE athletics or performing arts. The class of 2018 was offered more money in the form of academic scholarships than any preceding class and earned acceptances from a wide variety of colleges and universities stretching from London to Alaska, including outstanding Christian schools, several of the top colleges in the nation, and an Ivy League school. Overall, it was a fantastic year for GRACE as God continued to bless our community in ways beyond our expectations. 

As we celebrate the achievements of the year that concluded, we know that there are always opportunities for improvement. During the spring of 2018, GRACE conducted our annual parent survey, which provided a great deal of feedback for our leadership team to consider. Slightly more than fifty-eight percent of our families responded to the online survey. The results were positive, affirming, and encouraging as respondents praised the strong community atmosphere, Christian environment, overall student experience, and growing academic program. However, as to be expected, there was also critical feedback. As attested to by the surveys, our greatest strength institutionally comes from the strong, caring relationships created between our staff members and families. In areas where those relationships fell short, parents expressed their dissatisfaction. While positive responses tended to address generalities, critical ones often centered on specific interactions with individuals, which administrators in turn addressed with appropriate staff members. Our commitment is that each student will know that he or she is known, valued, and loved, an expectation expressed to our staff members throughout the year. 

As the 2018-19 school year gets underway, we will continue to build upon our goal of equipping students for life. There will be a greater emphasis on teacher observations and feedback, as well as a staff professional development program that empowers principals to develop targeted, individualized training opportunities for teachers. For instance, instead of sending the entire teaching staff to one conference, the principals and academic dean will work with individual teachers to develop plans specific to their content area, age group, or area where there is an opportunity for growth. GRACE is adding a part-time guidance counselor to better support the emotional and social needs of our students, as well as provide support for parents and staff members. On the lower campus, programmatic and staffing changes are in place to create a greater emphasis on science instruction in grades 3 through 5.  On the upper campus, new technology courses provide more opportunities for students to study technology and STEM-related programs, including a new STEM-focused elective for seventh-grade students.There will also be two additional fine arts course options for high school students. On both campuses, we continue to assess school safety procedures, implementing enhancements and modifications as needed, some of which will be apparent when school begins in August. 

As we enter into the 2018-19 school year, we want to share with you a few areas where we will be focusing our efforts:

Enrollment 

  • Over the past three years, our enrollment has remained relatively constant at just under 800 students. We would like to see enrollment in our earliest grade levels grow, bucking a national trend among private schools.
  • 90% of our students from 2017-18 re-enrolled for the 2018-19 school year. We would like this percent that measures our retention grow to 93% 

Facilities

  • We will continue to utilize Annual Fund donations to support improvements on both campuses.
  • When lower campus students return to school in August, they will notice new flooring throughout the lower campus, including a resurfacing of the gymnasium floor. 
  • The lower campus main entrance has been redesigned to provide greater visibility into the parking lot from the front desk, as well as a designated waiting area for school visitors. 
  • The third-grade classrooms are undergoing a complete makeover to utilize the space more effectively while also make them more student-centered. 
  • On the upper campus, the Maclellan Grant funds are being used to modify the media center and the computer lab, providing the first steps of a more modern makerspace for our students. 
  • Also, during the 2018-19 school year, GRACE will contract with a third-party to conduct a capital campaign feasibility study with the eventual goal of building an additional building on the upper campus that would include additional classrooms, two state-of-the-art science labs, and a gymnasium. 

Technology at GRACE (TAG)

  • Our leadership team continues to research the best tool for our students in relation to laptop options in seventh through twelfth grades and our goal is to make sure that we are doing the best possible job of equipping our students for success. 

With all of these issues, we ask that you join us in praying for the best options for our community, focusing on the way in which these areas can influence our ability to carry out our mission. Our teachers are intentionally equipping your children, our students, by developing skills that will not only help them be good students, but be prepared for life beyond the classroom at every age. For the 2018-19 school year, we will encourage our community to focus on what it means to live a life worthy of God’s great call on our lives as explained in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Please join us in praying that our students will embrace this scripture as we focus on God’s word being essential to be well-equipped in every aspect of their daily lives. It is this tool, more than anything else we can do, that will help them develop their gifts and talents so that they may truly impact their world for Christ. 

Blessings,

Eric Bradley, Head of School

 
 
 
 
 

5 Ways to Make the Most of Your College Tour

Nothing is more exciting for high schoolers than getting a taste of college life. Campus tours provide just that — a chance for soon-to-be college students to experience the opportunities that await in higher education. Visiting college campuses is also a vital part of the application process and helps students determine whether or not a school would be their best fit. 

Whether you’re looking at local colleges or planning an epic road trip to visit universities across the country, consider these tips for making the most of your time on campus.

Schedule Wisely
The best time to visit colleges is throughout junior year. Visits to schools prior to junior year are acceptable, but students mature quickly as they progress towards senior year and preferences can change over time.

Also, consider the season when planning your tours. It may be convenient for families to travel during the summer months, but there is much to be gained from visiting when school is in session. From talking to current students to getting a feel for the energy on campus, visiting during the fall or spring semester is a wise choice.

Come With Questions & Take Notes
Prepare questions prior to arriving on campus. College visits can be eventful and it is always difficult for families to remember all the details.

Jot down a list of your questions ahead of time and bring along a notebook or an iPad to take notes while you’re visiting. From programs of interest to activities on campus, there will be no shortage of information to collect.

Stick Around
Don’t rush off after your tour concludes. Do some exploring of your own. Sit down for a meal in the dining hall. Visit campus hangout areas to get a feel for the community. Strike up a conversation with students or professors. If there’s a program you’re particularly interested in, explore those facilities or schedule a meeting with the head of the department.

Don’t feel limited to only seeing what the tour covers; spend some time sightseeing and forming your own opinions. Take note of any profound or interesting conversations with faculty or students which could be referenced later when writing application essays for that particular college.

Sit in on a Class
Ask in advance if it’s possible to sit in on an actual class or two during your visit. Most college classes are relatively short and the time investment can be immensely helpful as you form your list of pros and cons.

Take note of the class size – is it a large lecture or a small group? What is the professor like? Do students seem engaged or are they dozing off? You know how you learn best, so ask yourself whether you feel motivated by the learning environment.

Get Off Campus
This may seem counterproductive at first, but checking out the school’s surrounding area is a smart move. Does the community feel safe? Could you envision yourself living off campus after a year or two of dorm life? What amenities or convenience shops are nearby? If you plan on traveling home for breaks, what is your proximity to the nearest airport?

All of these questions will help you decide if the area is a practical and desirable place to call home for the next four years.

Learn More
Interested in learning more about the college preparatory program at GRACE Christian School? Contact us today.

 

Moving Forward Together: Reflections From the Senior Class

At GRACE, spring air is always filled with hopes, dreams, and excitement as a new graduating class prepares to leave the school community they’ve called home for many years and pursue their passions in college and beyond.

For seniors, it is a time of reflecting back on all that has been achieved and looking ahead at the opportunities that await. As the school year winds down, we caught up with several of our graduates to do just that.

While each student had a unique experience at GRACE, we noticed some common threads. Challenges were met. Faith was deepened. Strong relationships were forged. And skills that will be used for a lifetime were developed.

Building Meaningful Connections

According to Sophia Czekalski, she wouldn’t be where she is today without her teachers and mentors at GRACE.

“I was able to build connections with so many teachers at GRACE, not just academically, but also personally. Señora Welch, who has taught me for five years now, is like a second mother to me.  I know that I can come to her with any educational, goal-oriented, or personal problem.

Mrs. Bomgardner, my AP Chemistry teacher, encouraged me to stay in her class and persevere when I considered dropping it after a difficult test. I knew it would take a lot of work, and a lot more studying than other students would have to do, but in the end I was able to succeed in the class, and I can truly say that it gave me better study habits and a drive for education.”

Sophia is headed to Appalachian State University in the fall. As a Diversity Scholar, she will promote unity and diversity on campus through community service. She is also excited about the opportunities she’ll have to study abroad, thanks to her scholarship.

Reaping the Rewards of Hard Work

Sophia was in good company when it came to challenging coursework. Mitchell Haughee took on a hefty load of four AP courses while remaining active on the athletics scene.

“The experience of starting a football program challenged my leadership abilities in ways I never expected. It was a very difficult task, but it felt good after every win to see the payoff of hard work. The camaraderie of the team, coupled with the embrace of the GRACE community, gave me many memories that I am extremely thankful for.”

Though he felt stretched thin at times, Mitchell says his teachers were extremely helpful and invested in his success. He credits Mrs. Jacobs and Mrs. Vanderkin with helping him evaluate life decisions throughout his senior year. A son of two engineers, Mitchell plans to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a degree in Engineering at UNC Charlotte.

Pursuing Long-Held Passions

Most graduates would agree that choosing a college is no small task. There is much that goes into such a monumental decision. Maggie Royce actually applied to 11 colleges, from Europe to the East Coast. After careful consideration, she chose Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

“I love so many different things about Wofford: the small class sizes, which I learned from my time at GRACE, were so important, the family feel, and all of the study abroad options.”

Maggie will be studying as a Launch Entrepreneurship Scholar and English major with a concentration in media studies. She started her personal blog in third grade, which was a catalyst for her career in writing for print publications such as Girls Life, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen Magazine.

“My dream, with the help of the Launch program, is to develop a media agency by the time I graduate from college,” she said.

Developing Leadership Skills

Felix Jarvis-Earle shares Maggie’s passion for writing and is headed to North Carolina State University to study Communications Media this fall. After spending 13 years at GRACE, he says the most rewarding part of his experience has been the care and attention the school has given to create student leaders.

“I recall when I asked Mrs. Gill if I could start a newspaper, and, more recently, working with Dr. Inman to start a Latin Club on campus. GRACE has always supported and desired to see their students grow beyond the classroom, which has not only been important for my enjoyment, but has taught me essential leadership skills needed to serve in college.”

Taking Risks to See Rewards

While many students, like Felix, began at GRACE in kindergarten, some joined the class further down the road. Cara Peterson relocated from Connecticut to North Carolina during her junior year. What seemed like a very difficult time for transition was ultimately turned to a rewarding experience. Cara says being on the worship team, playing on the varsity basketball team, getting involved in school plays, and going on a missions trip to Costa Rica has pushed her to new limits.

“I have learned who I am; that I am a leader and a risk taker. I learned that life is all about moving forward, trying new things, and being willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.”

Cara’s time in Costa Rica, along with time spent on other service projects at GRACE, influenced her decision to go to Gordon College in Massachusetts and pursue a major that will help her use her knowledge to educate others.

Cultivating a Servant’s Heart

A passion for helping others and making a difference in the world is seen in many of the student leaders at GRACE.

Justin Hegar has spent much of his free time tutoring and mentoring underprivileged elementary aged students through his local church. He is also the founder and director of the Benton Harbor Opportunity Scholarship, which awards a scholarship annually to a high achieving, underprivileged student planning to attend a four-year college.

Between community service, a full academic load, participating in the high school band, and playing on the varsity basketball team, Justin learned a lot about balancing multiple commitments and rising to meet challenges.

“At GRACE, the investment Coach D has made in my life through basketball has impacted my character development the most. He facilitated growth in my faith, my compassion for others, and my leadership abilities while also making me realize I can do anything I set my mind to if I am willing to put the work in.”

In the fall, Justin will attend the University of Pennsylvania to study Mechanical Engineering, and later plans to obtain his MBA.

From Ivy League schools to overseas mission fields, each GRACE graduate will without a doubt make a positive impact on the world.

Making the Most of One Million Minutes

Senior Samuel Hodges put it best:  

“Since kindergarten, I’ve spent almost one million minutes here at GRACE.”

He reflected on his parents’ choice to send him to GRACE and how his life has been affected by their investment.

“Other schools might offer similar courses, but here, it’s about who is teaching them, and how they are taught. For me, the teachers are what make GRACE different.”

Samuel says that over the years he’s developed lasting friendships with multiple teachers who have always cared about his life beyond the classroom.

“Because of them, I know I am well prepared for my college experience. Academically and spiritually, I am equipped for life’s challenges.”

Where Will Your Student Spend One Million Minutes?

Choosing a school to partner with you in your child’s education is one of life’s most important decisions. It’s not just about what they’ll be learning, it’s about who they’ll be learning from and mentored by. The teachers at GRACE invest in every student, instilling in them valuable life skills such as Biblical discernment, time management, problem solving, and conflict resolution. As a result, our graduates emerge mature, confident, and ready to make a difference in their world. Schedule Your Tour Today!

Kindergartners & Seniors Discuss their Futures

Last night, kindergartners graduated. Tonight, it’s the seniors turn at our 15th Commencement Exercises. We wish both groups of students well as they pursue their dreams and seek God’s path for their lives. Recently, we asked a few of our youngest graduates what they wanted to be when they grew up. As it turns out, there are seniors graduating with the same dreams.

 

Equipped for Civil Discourse

Several weeks ago, in response to the school shooting in Florida, the student council leadership asked the school administrative leadership team how GRACE students could participate in the nationwide walkouts taking place on March 14 and April 20. The first date coincided with our Community Service Day. On that morning, several of our groups gathered to pray for our nation and our leaders, and used the time to remember the victims from Stoneman Douglas High School. On the morning of April 20th, at 10:00 AM, a group of students who wished to participate gathered in the school parking lot, led by their student council. During this time, the 2018-2019 student council president, led the group in prayer for our nation, our leaders, and for the families who have been impacted by school shootings. After the prayer, our current student council president, shared a brief message with his peers, encouraging them to be informed, engaged, and active participants in the world around them. His call to action challenged students to form opinions based on the study of facts and to not simply go along with the crowd. He concluded his remarks by encouraging students to not just speak up for causes, but to take action through donating to and serving with the causes they support. As he stated, “these are the most American things you can do — Stand up for what you believe in and get in productive discussions with other people.” The fifteen minute event ended with a closing prayer for our students and our nation.

GRACE Christian School is a loving community that spiritually and academically equips, challenges, and inspires students to impact their world for Christ. In order to impact their world for Christ, our young people will need to do the very things that our student council presidents discussed. There is a quote from Dr. James Emery White, a Charlotte area pastor and author, that captures this idea beautifully. In his book Serious Times, Dr. White writes, “The heart of Jesus’ strategy for transforming the world was unleashing a force of transformed lives…This is how the world will be changed: individuals who have had their lives touched by Christ turning around and touching the lives of others.” We share the above with you so that you will be informed and, we hope, continue this dialog with your students at home. Thank you for the opportunity to partner with you in cultivating a legion of world changers for Christ.  

GRACE & Technology – The Truth About Our Technology Compass

As the pace of technology change continues its rapid march forward and as information about those changes becomes less centralized, it’s a good practice from time to time to address the big picture of how GRACE envisions using technology, both now and in the future.

Our fleet of computers is on overlapping 3-year leases and so every year we have some devices that are coming off of warranty. This gives us an opportunity, every year, to evaluate the effectiveness of our past choices as we plan for the future. For many years, Apple provided an unparalleled product for the education market. However, in the last five years, other manufacturers have been closing what used to be a very large price/performance gap.

We sat down with IT Director, Dana Morrison and asked him some candid questions about the GRACE technology program, the selection of student and teacher devices and his vision for the future.

Question: Why are we using Chromebooks in some grades?

For the 2017-2018 school year, we decided to switch to Chromebooks for students in 4th-6th grades for the following reasons:

  • Apple has not upgraded the chipsets in their 11” MacBook Airs that we use and we are hearing chatter that the model might be discontinued. While Apple has neither confirmed nor denied this, the possibility was enough to prompt us to look for alternatives should this come to pass.
  • Apple products have always been and continue to be more expensive than alternative products. When the 1:1 program was started, this expense was justified by the superior product being offered. This justification is no longer true. We can be better stewards of our tuition dollars and invest in other curriculum enhancing tools with the cost savings from replacing a $1,250 device with a $330 device.
  • The most common product repairs for the MacBooks (liquid spills and screen damage) are not covered by the AppleCare warranty. For example, replacing a screen in an 11” MacBook Air averaged $700+ in out-of-pocket expenses for our families. Replacing a screen in a Chromebook costs under $50.
  • More and more of the resources we use are online or could be online.  With the knowledge that many of our resources can be cloud-driven, the specific device used to access the cloud becomes less important.

Question: Are we moving away from Macs?

As part of our 1:1 program, we have always focused on the advantages that technology can have on learning. It has never been about the brand name on the device, but how that tool can be used to maximize student engagement and content retention in each subject area. There is a benefit to our students having experience on multiple platforms. It allows them to see the similarities and differences and become nimble at learning variants of programs. Students will continue to learn how to use word processors, spreadsheets, video editors, and presentation software to be able to meet the learning objectives of their classes. The brand of those applications is less important than knowing how to effectively use each tool.

Question: Have you had to lower curriculum standards to adapt to Chromebook use?

Chromebooks have not affected what we teach in the classroom. In some cases it affects how content is taught, but the teachers have not weakened their content in an effort to adjust for a change of student devices.

Question: Why don’t we use something with a removable keyboard or something “better” than the basic model selected?

Chromebooks do come in a variety of styles. We have used the Lenovo 11e Chromebook for the 3rd grade keyboarding instruction for several years and with great success.  Though there are models with flip/touch screens, our decision has been based on what makes the most sense for effective classroom and home use. As it relates to the flip screens and removable keyboards, more moving parts typically translates into more things to break. Looking ahead, we will continue to research the available options to procure the best device to meet our overall educational goals.

Question: Will students on the Upper Campus switch to Chromebooks in 2018-2019?

There are two very different dynamics that affect technology use on the Upper Campus when compared to the lower campus

  • Students across multiple grade levels can be enrolled in the same class. This is especially true for math and language classes, but also true in many upper level science classes.
  • Teachers teach a variety of classes, across multiple grade levels within their subject area with some teachers teaching both middle school and high school courses.

Because of this dynamic, we are waiting at least one year before we make a device change on the Upper Campus to give us additional time to think through all the ripple effects. Due to the dynamics described above, it is likely that the device used by Upper Campus students will need to be the same across all six grade levels. Since some of our MacBooks will be out of warranty for the 2018-2019 school year, we have budgeted extra funds to cover any repair costs that may be needed for those machines.

Within the TAG department, we have begun testing how a replacement device might be deployed. We are working with vendors and want to have all the information we can before making a decision. Regardless of the device selected, you can be assured that we take this transition very seriously and will select a device that best fits the mission and vision of the school.

Question: What’s your long-range vision for technology at GRACE?

It would be easy to think that the discussion on what device we buy is the point. But it’s not. Devices in the hands of students are just one piece of a bigger picture. The real future of technology at GRACE will have roots in solving real world problems.

We were recently awarded a Maclellan Grant to help us as our students develop real-world problem solving skills. Where teamwork, collaboration, and 21st century skills have become “common words” used to describe technology in education, we intend to take our focus to the next level with a fresh and new approach to technology in the classroom. Our computer science curriculum will now include the following elements as part of this vision.

  1. In our Introduction to Java elective class, students will be given the opportunity to work collaboratively on building drones and programming them in Java from scratch. Teams of students will work with a budget to make purchases, design their drone, 3D print the drone chassis, debug circuit control issues, and test their product.
  2. In our Computer Build / A+ Certification elective class, students will build a high end computer to be used in the computer lab. Students will have hands on roles to play as they spec their computer, purchase the parts, build the computer, and test it.
  3. Our Introduction to Python elective class will focus on the Raspberry Pi product with students taking a closer look at circuit design and sensors. From their research, they will use Raspberry Pi’s and programming to solve a variety of problems.

Some of the tasks outlined above are already happening as we empower students to take initiative in our existing computer science classes. We already have students working on a sample machine for the computer lab and another student working on building a drone from scratch to use as a demonstration model for next year.

Every year we are adding more opportunities for our students to gain experience with technology, coding, and computer science principles. Already

  • we have introduced programming logic all the way down to Kindergarten, have a Girls Who Code club for 6th graders as well as a co-ed technology club
  • our technology curriculum is designed to seamlessly transition our Lower Campus 6th grade students into Upper Campus 7th grade Computer Science classes
  • our Upper Campus computer science classes offer “stretch” projects to keep advanced students on a continual learning path

To conclude, we desire to place our students in a position where they can leverage their knowledge and skills for their future.  We want to get out of the way and let your students become what God desires them to be.

 

On Safety, Security, and Community, Part 2

[written by Head of School, Eric Bradley]

In the days after the tragic shootings in Parkland, Florida, I shared a response on behalf of the school. In that note, I promised to address security on our campuses, and since then, I have spent a great deal of time considering what to share about this topic. I have struggled with the appropriate balance between transparency and the liability that such transparency might furnish.  As I have considered what to write, one passage of Scripture continues to come to mind: 

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” I Peter 5:6-9

Peter’s words are as relevant today as when he wrote them as we consider the evil that continually surrounds us. In addition to the warning, he reminds us that we are not alone in dealing with this challenge or the evil prevalent throughout the world.  This passage commands us to be sober and vigilant. This is the driving thought as we consider the safety of everyone that comes onto our campus. 

In light of the call to be sober (clear-headed) and vigilant (alert, attentive, cautious, and observant), several actions have been taken to improve campus safety for our students and staff. These changes include, but are not limited to the following:

  • The exterior doors on both campuses are locked and only accessible through fobs or keypads. 
  • On both campuses, guests are required to submit identification that is scanned through the Raptor Security System, providing the school with a rapid background check. 
  • Security cameras have been added on both campuses to provide increased visibility of our doorways and property and can be accessed by our administrators at any time. 
  • On the upper campus, the rearrangement of the front desk allowed for the installation of a large screen monitor that provides visibility of the main doors on that campus. The glass treatments in the reception area allow for individuals to see out, but not for guests to see in. 
  • On the lower campus, security camera images are monitored throughout the day by the administrative team. 
  • In the Activity Building, the solid entrance door was replaced with one that has a window to allow staff to see outside the building. 
  • The school continues the practice of monthly drills and periodic staff emergency training.
  • This year, we required staff and student drivers to have identifying stickers on their windshields to help us track people on campus. 
  • We have been intentional about partnering with our local police forces (Cary on the Upper Campus and Raleigh on the Lower Campus) and they have responded with an increased presence on both campuses. 
  • Earlier this year, we created a school safety committee to review and monitor our current practices, as well as make recommendations for changes. 

The above points provide a brief overview of some of the steps that have been taken to protect the students and adults on our campuses. There are other things that take place that go unnoticed, but are ways we work to protect our community. For instance, last summer, we allowed our lower campus to be used by the local police as a training facility. These officers participated in drills throughout the building, developing response strategies for different scenarios. We will continue to seek opportunities to connect with local law enforcement agencies in an effort to help them have familiarity with our facilities. 

Even with the things shared above, we know there is need for more work to be done. We need to increase the amount of training for our staff and students on how to respond in case of an emergency. As a parent, you are aware of the unique safety challenges our community faces. On the lower campus, the shared property with the church provides challenges in monitoring who comes into the parking lot. The upper campus is very open, with students traveling between our two buildings. To that end, we have coordinated a visit with a team of agents from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NCSBI). In April, these agents will review our current security practices and procedures, as well as provide recommendations on how to improve these practices. These recommendations and the work done by our Safety Committee will provide us with a great strategy for improving campus security. 

As a GRACE parent, you can help us with campus security in a variety of ways:

  • When visiting either campus, always check in at the front desk.
  • Please speak to your students about the importance of not opening doors for unknown individuals and of the importance of not propping open doors in any campus building. 
  • On the Lower Campus, please use the signs provided by the school when picking up your child in carpool. 
  • When on campus, report any suspicious individuals, behavior, or vehicles. 
  • As I mentioned in the original email, the more the individual members of our community connect and get to know one another, the greater the safety of our overall community. 
  • Please cover our campus in prayer every day. 

I began this letter by citing a passage from I Peter 5:6-9. I think it only appropriate to conclude the letter with the passages immediately following those, which provides one of the most beautiful blessings in all of Scripture:

“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever.” I Peter 5:10-11