What goes on at... St. Anne's-Belfield School?

We hear from some technology innovators who work at a primary school in Virginia in the US and are coming to MozFest to bring their novel approaches to teaching to this side of the Atlantic.

What goes on at... St. Anne's-Belfield School?

Could you first introduce yourself for the reader?

We are Sarah FitzHenry and Kim Wilkens, and we are both educators at St. Anne's-Belfield School, a Kindergarten-to-8th Grade independent school in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am the School Library Media Specialist for all students grades K-8, and Kim is the Computer Science Program Coordinator for grades K-8.

In what ways can young people get involved with technology St. Anne's-Belfield School?

Technology is fully integrated into classrooms at St. Anne's-Belfield School. There are innumerable ways for students to get involved - from blogging in class, to 3D printing original designs, and everything in between. We have an exceptionally strong computer science program that integrates CS into every discipline, starting in kindergarten - by middle school, students can choose to spend time in the CS lab through before and after school groups or during student-lead exploratory periods to really strengthen their skills and pursue their passion.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

We are always collaborating! We just wrapped up our Fake News Unit with fourth graders, which is what we will be presenting about at MozFest. We are currently co-facilitating a student-led exploratory course called Where Did You Get That Cool…?, all about wearable tech; sewing tech projects using conductive thread, 3D printing custom designs, and soldering wearable projects. We co-coach the girls' middle school FLL robotics team, which meets weekly and will compete later this fall (last year we won a trophy!).

We work together to create pop-up makerspaces in the library throughout the year, which last one morning before school and create a lot of buzz. This winter, we will collaborate on our second annual Twelve Days of Tech-mas, in which all students participate in the Hour of Code and other CS activities during their library time. On the weekends, I also love to help out with Kim's non-profit organization, Tech-Girls, and the amazing opportunities that they offer to girls interested in technology and computer science in the Central Virginia area.

What special does St. Anne's-Belfield School offer to young people?

St. Anne's-Belfield School is a one-of-a-kind school. Students here have a wide selection of courses, after school programs, athletics, and other extracurricular activities. There is a heavy emphasis on collaboration, social-emotional learning, and soft skills in our classes. Our strategic plan focuses on creating students that are future ready through a strong foundation in digital and information literacy and 21st century skills. We strive, through student-directed learning, interdisciplinary inquiry, and community engagement to help students become productive, well-rounded members of society.

Which activities are most popular for young people and why?

Student-driven learning is wildly popular. The school has multiple signature programs that put students in the drivers' seat for experimentation, research, and project-based learning. It looks different in each grade, but all students in grades K-8 have an opportunity for inquiry-based, student-driven learning.

How do you incorporate technology into the work that you do?

Kim: As a librarian and a CS coordinator, technology is naturally a part of everything we do. We incorporate technology into our lessons naturally, and students do meaningful work with tech that have them creating instead of consuming. My whole purpose at the school is to incorporate technology creation into all classrooms. You can read about my experiences of doing this on her blog (techkimatstab.tumblr.com).

Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?

Kim: I'm working with 8th grade science on a Design Thinking & Robotics. In the library, a fourth grade class recently used iPads to record videos of themselves reading stories aloud to share with victims of Hurricane Harvey that could not return to their schools or libraries for access to books. It combined use of tech with empathy and community connection, and left a deep impact on students.

How will you be getting involved in MozFest?

Kim: This year we are session facilitators for Is That Real?: Preparing Students to Outfox Fake News that is part of the Digital Literacy space. Last year, I was a space wrangler for that space, so am looking forward to taking in all levels of the festival this year. We're excited to have one of our students from St. Anne's-Belfield School joining us, so she can enjoy the MozFest experience and share her journey with her peers back home.

Does St. Anne's-Belfield School publish any online resources that young people doing Arts Award could use?

CS for the Learning Village @ http://cs4lv.stab.org

Digital Arts @ http://dart.blog.stab.org

What advice do you have to give to people who wish to engage with young people from all backgrounds using technology?

Kim: Don't be afraid to try things out and learn with young people. Teaching how to create tech can be intimidating because it is changing so fast, but it is also an integral part of the next generation's future. Students need to understand of the fundamentals of computing so they are empowered to take control of how tech will affect their lives, their culture, and their future.

Sarah: I agree! I've also learned that engaging with young people means meeting them where they are. It might mean learning to use a new social media tool that isn't your favorite because you know it will build a connection, or spending some time sending comments and messages online to strengthen a relationship. Tech can be an amazing tool for bringing people together, if it's used properly.


Bhavesh Jadva

Bhavesh Jadva Voice Team

Former Media Editor on Voice and former Arts Award Editor on AAoV covering film, TV, music and comedy.

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