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DA renewed as Apple Distinguished School
Posted 12/03/2015 06:14PM

Two years after first earning the Apple Distinguished School designation, Durham Academy has once again earned Apple's stamp of approval, a designation that lasts through 2017. The honor is in recognition of DA's 1:1 iPad and laptop programs in the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools.

The Apple Distinguished School designation is reserved for programs that meet criteria for innovation, leadership and educational excellence, and demonstrate a clear vision of exemplary learning environments.

"Being recognized as an Apple Distinguished School solidifies the work that many of us have been doing for years," said Middle School digital learning coordinator Karl Schaefer.

DA's 1:1 program began in the fall of 2012, when each Middle Schooler was given a school-provided iPad for use both during class lessons and at home — for daily homework, longer-term projects and research. Faculty immediately embraced the devices, and over the past three years, they've discovered more and more ways of using the devices to bring their subject matter to life.

Sixth-grade language arts teachers Patti Donnelly and Julie Williams were the earliest pioneers, working with Schaefer on a pilot program prior to the schoolwide launch. Now, Donnelly can't imagine her classroom without iPads.

"I am grateful my students have individual access to a resource that allows for differentiation, creativity, self-paced learning and global collaboration," she said. "The iPad cannot exist in isolation. Everyone has a responsibility for the planning, the guidance, and the support needed to use it effectively while enhancing learning. We have that at Durham Academy."

The Middle School's success — including the 2013-2015 Apple Distinguished School designation — inspired the expansion of the 1:1 digital learning program in fall 2014. Each DA fourth-grader is now given his or her own iPad to use during the school day, and a 1:1 MacBook laptop program is being phased in grade-by-grade in the Upper School.

For years, the Lower School has provided carts of iPads for teachers to use in their classrooms, and iPads are also available for Preschoolers' occasional use, so the expansion to a 1:1 program for fourth-graders was a natural move, said Trevor Hoyt, DA's director of technology. “With this year's fifth-graders having had daily access to the tablets as fourth-graders, fifth-grade teachers are finding that their students are better equipped to make use of the iPads for academic purposes right away,” Hoyt said.

For Michele Gutierrez, Lower School technology coordinator, it's gratifying to see the school's technology education efforts recognized by Apple.

"Our use of technology has always stemmed from a desire to provide students with a rich learning experience that not only develops intellect but also fosters critical thinking, curiosity and creativity," she said. "Apple's recognition of our commitment to excellence in education is a testament to faculty members striving to stay true to our liberal arts tradition by constantly challenging themselves to provide a learning environment that enables students to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world."

All freshmen and sophomores and about half of the junior class have school-provided MacBooks, and students keep the same device for the entirety of their Upper School career, including during summer breaks. More Upper School teachers are using laptops as an instructional tool in class each day, said Julian Cochran, Upper School technology coordinator and computer science teacher. English, foreign language and history classes have been the fastest to incorporate the technology into their daily lessons, and science is close behind.

"One of the biggest things I have seen as a teacher and a parent of two ninth- graders is that students are actively solving problems using their laptops," Cochran said. "My own children use the laptop as a daily problem-solving tool at home and in school. I think that's great, as it mirrors my job."

DA's application for renewal of its Apple Distinguished School designation was made, in true Apple fashion, via an iBook (downloadable by users of iPads, iPhones and Mac computers). The application was a team effort, with the school's technology support team members and divisional technology coordinators all contributing. In addition, Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner, Middle School Director Jon Meredith and Williams offered video reflections.

"Like most programs of this scope, there are many people who have piloted, created or supported our efforts," Schaefer said. "I am proud to have played my part on this team and commend everyone involved. Working on creating the iBook in order to submit the application is also a wonderful exercise in reflecting on where we have come from, what is working and what the future may hold for our learning environment."

The 1:1 digital learning program's transformational impact on learning has been exciting for Hoyt to witness. Now, teachers don't have to rely so heavily on textbooks — some have transitioned to digital textbooks, and others have done away with textbooks entirely.

"It's really driven home the fact that there are different ways teachers can teach subject material," Hoyt said. "Kids have access to the same resources that faculty do online, whether it's via an iPad or laptop. It opens up the ability for teachers to be a little more creative, even in the spur of the moment."

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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