The director of technology for Cranston Public Schools, Donna-Marie Frappier, said that technology now plays a role in everything that Cranston schools do. That’s why the department has to continue updating a revolving technology plan to make sure this aspect of education continues running smoothly.
“Technology for us is what a pencil used to be back in 1970,” she said in an interview on Friday. “We utilize it 100 percent throughout the day and integrate it into our curriculum as a rule. This is just the way it’s done today.”
The technological connectivity in schools reached a new level with RIDE’s Wireless Classroom Initiative, which awarded Cranston about $1.47 million in state funds to provide wireless internet access in 100 percent of school buildings, Frappier said. Phase one of this initiative happened in 2013, when every classroom was given internet access, then phase two happened in 2016 to provide internet in places like auditoriums, cafeterias, and gymnasiums, so students can partake in e-learning in those spaces as well.
In addition to increased wireless access, Frappier has also led a charge to keep up with the latest educational technology to prepare students for college. She said that she and her department must come up with the funding to pay for the hardware and software in school computers, then the curriculum director and teachers decide how to properly apply it to education.
“If Brown is using Chromebooks, the students are going to use Chromebooks,” she said. “We have MACs, PCs, iPads, all available for students….Now all the students are on Google apps.”
Both Frappier and Superintendent of Cranston Schools Jeannine Nota agree that technology in the schools must be as up-to-date as possible with the newest equipment and software in order to educate students in the best way possible. Nota noted in an email, however, that although technology is a wonderful tool, it must be measured and students should become “good digital citizens” as they take advantage of the technology available.
The schools have also advocated for students to bring in their own devices (which schools can filter and protect when they’re on their networks) if it will help the kids with their schoolwork.
This is called “blended learning,” Superintendent Nota wrote, in which students use computers during class in conjunction with the lesson plans. Students can work together on projects or take part in e-learning during class periods. The computers also allow for increased communication between parents, teachers, and students in regards to grades and assignments, she wrote.
She also added that the computer lab, used in past years that all the students in the schools had to share, has now evolved into several mobile carts with laptops on them that allow teachers to use them wherever they’d like.
One of Frappier’s biggest responsibilities as director is making sure that funding remains available and intact to continue investing in technology in schools.
The district-level budget for the technology department is broken down between new equipment, budgeted at $200,000, software licensing (i.e. Microsoft services) at $25,000, old equipment repairs at around $15,000, and providing Internet service for about $13,000. These funds are evenly distributed to each Cranston public school based on the number of students. Each individual school can also ask the district for additional funds if they feel they need them.
Frappier is also in charge of applying for any type of grants that are available, such as legislative grants, to help fund technology in schools. These might not be as big as grants like the wireless Internet one given by RIDE, she said, but a $1,500 grant does help. She also said that the schools take donations from colleges, such as Bryant or Brown, to bring in new technology equipment.
Despite the vast increases in how technology is used in schools in recent years, there are still potential ways to incorporate technology into the school day, such as using only electronic books and no hard copies. They’re not at that point yet, Frappier said, but they are at a point where technology is a necessity and no longer a luxury.
“It’s really how we do business on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “We use it for everything.”