Bridging digital divides at Rochester International Academy

Bridging digital divides at Rochester International Academy

Photos provided by Corey Skinner

• June 5, 2014

The day I was asked to lead Corey Skinner’s Living Environment class at the Rochester International Academy seemed ordinary.  A roomful of students busily working on their iPads, completing research on their human body project.  These are teenagers, so once—just once—someone glanced at a Nepalese soap opera on YouTube.

What made the day extraordinary was that before arriving at RIA, most of the students had little to no exposure to technology. Yet, thanks in part to the RIA 1:1 iPad project, by the end of the first year they will be utilizing web resources and often publishing self-generated books, taking online quizzes and completing assignments on a school based platform like edmodo.

divides 2Most of the students at RIA come from refugee camps from as far away as Nepal or Somalia or Myanmar and are classified as Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE).  These are students who have potentially missed years of formal education due to unstable conditions in their origin countries.  As such, RIA students often lack the computer experience and skills taken for granted by most Americans.

To help their students acquire the digital literacy necessary for 21st century jobs, Skinner and other teachers have implemented a unique model, the 1:1 iPad project. With assistance from Apple Computers and strong support from the IMT group at Central Office (especially Thom Burrell and Randy Schenk who have donated at least a hundred hours of their time both at work and at home) students in four classes are assigned an iPad that they can carry around with them while on campus. In addition extensive professional development was rolled out to those RIA staff who interact with iPad using students.divide 3

All this has allowed students the ability to take control of their own scaffolds and learning, often using them in the middle of class to translate text, pull an image of an English word they don’t recognize or view an entry in Webster’s ELL oriented dictionary.

There are common apps that all teachers use with their students, like PDF annotators but there are also unique tools being used in the different content areas. Students might be interpreting a passage from The Joy Luck Club in a digital forum in English Class, completing and emailing a worksheet in Math or constructing a book on the circulatory system in science.

I was quite impressed in my day at RIA. I witnessed students from around the world leaping digital divides and saw the results of a successful private sector/public education collaboration and a pilot program that may well migrate throughout the District.  And I learned that you can find Nepalese soap operas on YouTube.


For some, a Thanksgiving first at the Rochester International Academy


About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts