Technology Helps Turn Around Failing Rural Arkansas School

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ST. PAUL (KFSM) -  Four years ago, a high school in rural Arkansas was one of the worst in the state. But now, the school is being recognized nationally for its excellence.

Historically, going to college wasn't the norm in St. Paul. There have always been plenty of jobs in logging for which a college degree is not needed.

"A lot of these kids will be first generation college students," said Lendy Eaton, a math teacher at St. Paul High School. "Their parents didn't go to college and so the family expectation hasn't been there."

When Principal Daisy Dyer Duerr came to St. Paul in 2011, St. Paul High School was on the verge of being taken over by the state. Students were not meeting state expectations in math or literacy.

"We choose to live in this area, but we don't choose for our kids to have any less of an education because of where we live," Duerr said.

Duerr believed technology could help turn around the school. Through several grants, the principal transformed traditional classrooms into digital learning spaces.

Classrooms are equipped with Smart Boards, there's PC and Mac computer labs and students have access to a variety of electronic devices including iPads and Nooks.

"We really wanted to infuse technology into our curriculum, because here in an isolated school in the middle of nowhere Arkansas we wanted them to be able to have just as good as an education as they could in any metropolitan area in America," Duerr said.

Alicia Boyd, a junior at the school, said using technology has made it easier to learn.

"We don't have a lot of outlets to do things with," she said. "We have older textbooks and when we have our own devices and the computers we can search out more."

Boyd is not the only one succeeding in the classroom. More students than ever before are scoring above average in state-wide assessments. Also, the high school is now ranked in the top ten-percent of Arkansas schools.

"I knew the kids were learning more and accomplishing more, but I had no idea they were outpacing everybody else," Eaton said.

The school's success has made students want to do better and achieve more. For many, college is now in their future.

"It's really increased the students' value of their education," Duerr said. "I feel like students believe that things are limitless that they can do anything now."

Duerr said she hopes the school's turnaround will show others that they can do the same.

"I always say 'no excuses, no limits'," she said. "We can do anything and I think that that's the truth. St. Paul is the perfect example for that."

St. Paul High School was honored in March at Digital Learning Day for its innovating learning practices.  It's an annual event held in Washington D.C.