Izabella Niedzialek was in full hiking gear. Standing at the base of the Appalachian Trail, hiking stick in hand, the second-grader was grinning from ear to ear when someone asked her about the trail’s history.
The trail was just a few feet away from the MARTA station, which led to Turner Field, the Georgia Aquarium and the Blue Ridge Mountains, where second-grader Natalie Armour was stationed as a tour guide.
“I did a Blue Ridge cabin and I did a butterfly monarch and we did a boat,” Armour said. “I learned that there are many kinds of animals and plants in Blue Ridge.”
With many miles separating these Georgia landmarks, the only place to find them all in the same room was Kelly Mill Elementary School, the first of two Forsyth County Schools featured in the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Bus Trip Across Georgia.
The school was selected for its use of technology to create fun ways for students to learn. It’s also one of the county’s schools using the Bring Your Own Technology initiative, allowing students to use their own devices, including iPads, iPods, gaming devices and smartphones.
“This is like being a kid in a candy store,” said Bill Maddox, spokesman for Georgia Partnership. “This is incredible to see how technology is being used throughout the pipeline.
“You see high school kids and computers and that kind of thing, but my gosh, everywhere you look here, there are children throughout this whole school using technology,” he said. “And everywhere you look, kids are learning.”
The tour took about 80 current and future teachers, college education professors and school administrators to 10 statewide schools over the course of two days. The goal was to show what schools are doing to engage students in learning through career pathways and technology.
Among those on the tour was Sarah Smith, graduate student at Augusta State University. She partook in the tour to get ideas for the classroom she hopes to have shortly after she graduates in May.
“I grew up with just worksheets and read the textbook and now, what they have with the BYOT, they can do a lot of research and they can make their learning their own, instead of everybody having the exact same thing,” she said. “It’s really encouraging to see what I can do.”
Smith said the new efforts are working.
“You can tell the kids actually cared about [their projects] … they’re engaged and they’re not just memorizing stuff. They’re actually taking it in and making it part of themselves.”
Both Kelly Mill and South Forsyth High School were featured stops on the trip.
Being selected, especially as a new school, is “absolutely beyond what I can articulate,” said Kelly Mill Principal Ron McAllister.
“The staff, from day one, embraced technology and Bring Your Own Technology,” he said. “I [told them] kids will always know how to use the device. What they don’t know, and need from you is how to use it to learn.
“And so we reminded them that we’re hired not to be technology specialists,” McAllister said. “They’re hired to be learning specialists, and to incorporate technology to enhance learning. And they have embraced that.”
South Forsyth High School treated visitors to fine dining, classical music and a tour.
Students from the school’s DECA chapter acted as tour guides, taking visitors through different classrooms to highlight the school’s advance placement classes, engineering program and advanced math and science classes.
They convened for lunch, prepared by the school’s award-winning culinary program. Student Joshua Andrews said his morning started early, preparing the courses and grilling chicken. But it made hearing compliments that much more rewarding.
“I really enjoy it,” he said.
Just like representing the state in nationals for a recent culinary competition, Andrews said it was nice “representing our state again today with this. It’s sort of the same deal.”
While Andrews said he’s excited his school has such a great culinary program, it’s one of just many things he’s proud of.
“They came to our school for a reason. We not only have the best culinary program, we’re well-rounded. We have a great music program. We also have the world’s largest DECA chapter,” he said. “So it wasn’t just us. It’s the whole school that’s being showcased.”
The school’s offerings came as no surprise to Meganne Butler, a graduate student at the University of Georgia. She was happy to be selected for the tour but even more excited when she found out her alma mater was on the list.
“It was nice to come back and see that they’re being recognized for the things they’ve been doing since I was here, but almost more so now with the availability of technology,” Butler said.
“When I was here, they were definitely recognized, but it’s to the nth degree now. It’s just awesome.”