Sioux Falls classrooms today

Earlier this week, LSS had the opportunity to interview Dr. Celeste Uthe-Burow, Student Support Services Coordinator for the Sioux Falls School District. We talked to her about how schools are changing and evolving, as well as an overview of support services available to students in the district.

Click on the image above to listen to the interview (53 minutes in length). For those not able to listen to the full presentation, below are main points from our conversation.

Note: This is a summary of the interview and not direct quotes from the presenter.

Q: The mission statement of the Sioux Falls School District is: “To educate and prepare each student to succeed in a changing world.”  Please talk a little about what that statement means and how it guides the district?

A: One important part of the mission statement is EACH student. We look at each and every individual student and how they learn. The statement also incorporates the need to prepare youth for the global society that we live in today where technology connects everyone.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes the school district has experienced during your career?

A: Today there is definitely an emphasis on technology. One thing of the past is a teacher standing up in front of the class and lecturing lesson after lesson. In a classroom today, you see a lot of small group meetings and teachers interacting on a more one-to-one basis. We do still test students, but it may not be the paper and pencil method we are used to. Teachers may interview students  to ensure that students are synthesizing what they have learned.

Q: Youth culture is constantly evolving. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in youth over the course of your career in education?

A: Youth are very similar today than they were in the past. Culture and how we view things has shifted. One example is in the past belief in the greatest good for the greatest number.  Today, there is definitely more an emphasis on individual instruction and achievement.

There is also a shift in technology and how kids connect. Kids today are able to multitask and their life moves much faster. We are adapting to those needs by offering tests on cell phones, using iPad applications and more. We do know that technology is not the answer for everything. We need to include the human, personal element in all classrooms.

Q: What are the biggest demographic changes you’re seeing in the Sioux Falls school district?

A: Our diversity has grown. One thing we have done to help families that are new to our country is employ ELL liaisons that work with students and their parents to get them versed in the school environment and connected to other community resources.

Q: The CDC reports that the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007. In what ways does the increasing prevalence of ADHD affect the school district?

A: Our main goal is to meet each child where they are at. There are two parts to ADHD – some may have attention deficits and that is where we see the lecture method not keeping students engaged in learning. We also have students who are more on the hyper-active side of the diagnosis. We allow for more space between desks or kids to sit on a rubber ball rather than a chair. We are not doctors and do not diagnose kids, but we examine how we can work with each child in the school environment.

Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities to ensure student success?

We need to engage kids in learning and make them realize the importance of school. We also need to do a good job of giving students choices, give them varied opportunities and make sure they know that they have a network of support.

One other aspect is our bullying prevention program that lets kids know that schools are a safe place. One of the top reasons for kids not succeeding is they feel uncomfortable at school. Every teacher and student has been trained on what bullying is and how they can report it. Every report of bullying is taken seriously. The district is tracking the results of the prevention program and statistics will be out in 2013.

Initially, the results have been positive. There is now a concrete definition of bullying and that has led to an increase in reports of bullying. That is a celebration because we know that kids are identifying what it is and it is being reported. We can now deal with it since we know about it.

Q: Do you know of any examples of classrooms capitalizing on new technology and working it into the curriculum in creative ways?

A: New Technology High School is a great example. All learning there is project-based, so they put what they learn together and present it to community members for evaluation. The first class will graduate next year. Technology is moving so fast, and education funding does not always match that pace. We are somewhat limited on what and how much we can offer due to the expenses involved with technological tools.

Q: Lastly, highlight some of the services available to students.

A: Counseling services are at each school and really covers a lot of different areas. One area is career development, and that starts as early as elementary school. In addition, counselors help develop social skills. They provide that one-on-one connection for kids and help solve all kinds of issues a child may face throughout the day.

We also have a McKinney-Vento program that assists kids who are in a homeless situation. Some of this is helping with transportation funding for students who move often to stay at the same school for the year. We know students lose knowledge when a change in school is made, and that gets multiplied with each transfer.

In addition, we connect with LSS for mentoring, and that has been a wonderful partnership. Several students need mentors to help give them the extra attention needed to help them succeed. If any mentors have questions, please do not hesitate to ask. The school is appreciative of you and is willing to help with needs that may arise.

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