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Photo via edexcellence.net

In the first BoardShare blog, I discussed an encounter I had with the principal of a rural school. She mentioned to me that, for many of her students, Spring Break means they do not eat for a week. I came to recognize that rural schools face a number of challenges, including a lack of technology. So what does it take to bring technology to a rural school? We spoke with educational consultant and rural educator Daisy Dyer Duerr to find out.

When Dyer Duerr became principal of St. Paul High School in rural northwestern Arkansas, she realized that the school was lacking in the technology department. There were only a handful of Macbooks and a few interactive whiteboards; because none of the teachers were trained on these products, they went unused.

Dyer Duerr immediately made it her mission to implement technology; the goal was to make sure that every graduate of St. Paul High School was proficient on multiple technological devices. Within four years, she was able to purchase technology and place it throughout the school. She also managed to get St. Paul High School ranked within the top 10 percent of all schools in Arkansas. It was no easy feat, however.

Rural schools are often located in low-income areas, which makes it difficult for administrators to have money for technology purchases. Dyer Duerr explained that she got a great deal of money to purchase technology for her school by applying for grants. She was one of the only staff members that handled administrative duties, so she applied for all of the grants herself. Using her professional learning network, she spent a great deal of time calling schools near and far to find out what grants they had received; this helped her get a better idea of where to find grants for her own school. Dyer Duerr also looked at the list of grants available through the federal government.

“The federal government grant list can be overwhelming,” she said. “It’s okay to call and explain your situation to them and ask for help with finding out which grants to apply for.”

One of Dyer Duerr’s biggest pieces of advice was to try and write for everything.

“If you think you may even slightly qualify for that grant, apply for it,” she recommended. “Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it. Follow up with them and say ‘thank you for considering us; we’re going to reapply next year, and we would like to know if there’s any way we can improve our application.’”

Her other crucial piece of advice was to take advantage of available Title I money. In her first year, she ended up being one of the only applicants for Title I funding, and, due to the small applicant pool, she received $56,000 instead of the $6,000 she had expected.

While looking into different methods for finding grants, I discovered a helpful page on Edutopia entitled “Grant Information: Resources to Get You Started”. It provides information on different places to find grants, and includes a link to Grants.gov, which lists grant opportunities from federal grant-making agencies.

Once Dyer Duerr had the money to purchase technology, she needed to get the teachers to start using the devices.

“It really started with me getting the teachers excited about the idea of incorporating technology into their lesson plans,” Dyer Duerr explained. “No one had done that with them before.”

The first devices she purchased with the money were iPads, and she spent an entire day on training the teachers. She reached out to a friend and had them come in and do a training session as well. Daisy emphasized that it’s incredibly important to train the teachers on the technology they will be using in the classroom; otherwise, the teachers won’t feel comfortable enough to use them with their lesson plans, and the technology will go to waste.

To get the teachers even more familiarized with the iPads, she loaned the devices to them for the summer and gave them iTunes gift cards.

“It really didn’t matter to me if they used the iPads just to play games the entire summer, as long as they came back the next school year feeling comfortable using the devices.”

When I asked how she found enough hours in a day to write grants (some as long as 75 pages), call schools, train teachers, and handle all the other duties of a principal, Dyer Duerr laughed and said, “I don’t really need that much sleep.” She would often work on grants at home from 11 pm to 2 am. “It’s an 18 hour a day kind of job, but that’s what it takes.”

Incorporating technology in rural schools is unlikely to be a quick-fix. However, with enough dedication, administrators can turn any school around.