American Preparatory Academy (APA) is a fully accredited, Exceptional Student Education (ESE) specialized private school that serves over 130 students from grades K-12. Based in Broward County, Florida, APA seeks to provide its students with a safe, comprehensive, ESE certified program that focuses especially on the needs of each individual student, while also preparing students for college as diverse and global citizens in the 21st century world.
APA brings an inclusive and family-oriented approach to learning as well as smaller class sizes, with an average student to teacher ratio of seven to one. A 2014 National School Choice Award winner, APA’s academic curriculum is aligned with the Florida Sunshine State Standards, but has been modified for students with varying, and in some cases, significant needs, featuring Spanish and American Sign Language bilingual programs. Founded in 2007, American Preparatory Academy’s mission is to give all students the tools needed to build success, confidence and the desire to achieve excellence.
American Preparatory Academy sought opportunities to introduce more technology into their classrooms during the 2014-2015 school year, as parents and staff alike expressed interest in increasing students’ usage and skills around technology and writing. With limited wireless broadband access throughout the campus and the occasional desktop computer in the classrooms, student accessible technology was minimal. “Technology has the ability to help students in all areas of the [ESE] spectrum improve, as most students are already acclimated to technology through the use of their phones and social media,” said Principal Soraya Matos. Principal Matos added, “Most of our students feel more comfortable using technology and can better express themselves through it, especially with regards to writing.”
Principal Soraya Matos, American Preparatory Academy
As a small, specialized school, APA did not have the funds necessary for a whole campus, one-to-one device implementation. Therefore, any technology, resources or devices that would be acquired would not only have to be generally easy for both students and staff to use, but must also be accessible for and meet the needs of APA’s exceptional and diverse student population.
Principal Matos, who has over seven years of classroom experience as a Mathematics teacher, and her staff were faced, not only with the financial challenges and broad decision making that comes with widespread implementation of new edtech, but also with enabling basic access to such technologies across APA’s campus. APA’s classrooms and offices are spread throughout two separate buildings, making continuous and strong access to the wireless network challenging. Due to the budget and infrastructure constraints, a whole school technology initiative was not yet feasible; instead, American Preparatory Academy focused on achieving the best educational technology experience possible, one classroom at a time, that could be easily shared amongst the student and teacher communities, providing the greatest benefit to all.
In the Spring of 2015, American Preparatory Academy received a generous offer for a donation of a classroom set of the device of their choosing. APA selected a set of Chromebooks exclusively; as their staff and teachers felt that Chromebooks allowed for more flexibility for learning and student use throughout the grades, were the most cost-effective option and—most importantly— APA felt that Chromebooks were better equipped to meet the majority of the specific educational needs of their students.
Melissa Gonzalez’s Honors English students use Chromebooks to write a class book on BoomWriter
Chromebooks allowed for multiple users on one device through separate Google account access—ideal for a school with a limited budget. Chromebooks were also determined to be more durable, a key factor in selecting a device that would be used in grades spanning from early elementary to soon to be graduating seniors, as well as transported across APA’s outdoor campus.
As a laptop with a full, attached keyboard, APA determined that Chromebooks were much more conducive to engaging students in writing, a subject area where many students, regardless of skill level, struggled. The ease of typing on the full keyboard was comfortable and familiar for students, therefore helping to increase students’ writing output levels and alleviate some of issues and stress that can arise when transitioning to new technology.
New Collaborative Approach to Writing
The teachers of American Preparatory Academy found that their students, across all grade and skill levels, were more engaged through Chromebook use and had strengthened their writing and literacy skills with free, group writing website BoomWriter. Available through Google for Education apps, BoomWriter, like Chromebooks, is ideal for a variety of student learners in grades 2-12 across all subject areas. BoomWriter features three collaborative writing tools that help students develop and enhance their writing, reading, vocabulary and peer assessment skills.
A highlight for APA teachers was the ability to deconstruct an entire story or essay into more manageable chapters or sections using one of BoomWriter’s tools. This allowed their students to effectively express their creativity and understanding of a lesson, which was made more accessible for ESE students through engagement on Chromebooks. “They love them,” Principal Matos said of her students on Chromebooks. “Before Chromebook, our students hardly had access to technology,” she continued, “[and now] they are definitely more engaged, and have been able to obtain resources, like BoomWriter, to help them better understand the material.”
Reluctant Writers Gain Confidence,
Dave Francis, an ESE qualified English and World History teacher, and his high school Speech and Debate classes utilized Chromebooks to research and write personal narrative speeches, which the students would recite to the class. Mr. Francis found Chromebooks to be very easy to use with his class and that his students “feel [using the Chromebooks] is a treat.” “Chromebooks have allowed several students to research topics easily and organize and read outlines with more clarity; especially those with mechanical writing difficulties,” said Mr. Francis. “Many of our students struggle with organizational skills either normally or related to their disabilities,” he continued, “[and] using the Chromebooks has been a great help. We also have a smaller amount whose writing is difficult to read, even for them. They have also benefitted.”
Dave Francis, High School English & World History, American Preparatory Academy
Jessica Tous’s high school Technology students found Chromebooks very engaging and were able to use the technology skills and knowledge learned in their other classes as well. Ms. Tous enjoyed that while using the Chromebooks “[her students] were able to share their work immediately with [her]”. Chromebooks also made it possible for students to study and complete homework and projects if they did not have access to a computer at home.
Edna Nacer adds weekly vocabulary words on WordWriter
In the elementary department, Edna Nacer and Karilyn Milor sought to develop their students’ writing and basic computer skills through technology use. Ms. Nacer, an ESE specialist, wanted to engage her students in, and build their confidence around, the writing process, as her students struggled with crafting even simple sentences and generally do not enjoy having to write. Ms. Nacer and Ms. Milor found that through using BoomWriter’s vocabulary development tool WordWriter on the Chromebooks, they were able to create activities that met their students’ levels, while creating an interactive writing environment that their students felt more encouraged in. Ms. Milor especially found WordWriter helpful in increasing her students skills and understanding around grammar and spelling, as the selected vocabulary words are checked off and highlighted as students type, making comprehension and accuracy more obtainable.
Melissa Gonzalez, High School Honors English, American Preparatory Academy
In APA’s honors department, Melissa Gonzalez’s high school English students thoroughly enjoyed writing their own stories—with some students writing almost 4,000 word chapters—and even more so now through Chromebook use, which they found engaging, interactive and easy to use. Ms. Gonzalez, a technology champion, believes the Chromebooks provided a more “hands-on” learning experience for her students. Through using StoryWriter, BoomWriter’s fiction and literacy tool, their writing also became more accessible to the class as a whole during the peer assessment portion of BoomWriter platform. “Technology and writing skills are integral to success in today’s 21st century world,” said Ms. Gonzalez, “and by acclimating students to writing on the Chromebooks through BoomWriter’s unique platform, students can more easily develop both.” In the end, Ms. Gonzalez’s class collaboratively created and published their own paperback book using StoryWriter and Chromebooks—a tangible accomplishment of the power of technology use in the classroom.