Back to School, But Not Business as Usual

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back to school bus

Photo: istock/arinahabich

A classic yellow school bus against a cornfield backdrop on a rural road says American as much as the homemade ice cream we crank for the Fourth of July. Sometimes, I snap a photo of the approaching bus as it rounds the bend, stirring a dust cloud on the gravel road to our home farm.

School enters its first full month back in session, and outside of bus routes, much has changed. My kids carry Chromebooks instead of textbooks. Students receive school email addresses by the first grade. They type instead of write cursive. Casting on classroom televisions is the norm, and my 10-year-old last year made multiple digital slideshow presentations on agricultural companies for business class.

I always thought I would know what my kids would experience and could guide them with my educational upbringing. Then, I remember that I used computers with floppy disks. My friends and I searched encyclopedias instead of Google, and my first mobile phone came in a shoebox-sized bag and not until college, where I also received my first-ever email message. Now, my teen carries her own smartphone on which she monitors two email addresses and a social media account. The kids seldom bring school papers home in this digital age. And, homework on the go requires we create a Wi-Fi hotspot in the minivan for assignments due by midnight, not in class the following day.

Even with fewer than 100 students in the high school, our small district integrates modern technology into classroom instruction, finds innovative ways to challenge each student and offers a coursework variety that helps students pursue their passions and celebrate their individuality. Older students use smartphones to photograph stages in science experiments. Students now attend and lead parent-teacher conferences. And, my daughter takes high school courses in the eighth grade at our PreK-to-12 school, where our students can now attain an associate’s degree upon high school graduation.

Doing my part, I learned to navigate the online gradebook, help with math when I can, listen to my kids and support them in finding the personal study habits that work best in this digital age. The start of each school year requires an open mind to a new-age educational approach that meets the needs of our evolving world. What worked 25 years ago, may not today. But when in need of something sentimental, I can take comfort in the familiarity of the bus route and the steadfast embrace with my kids at the end of the day.

About the Author: Joanie Stiers, a wife and mother of two farm kids, writes from west-central Illinois, where her family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle.

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