Campaign raises funds for new technology

The Newtonite

[media-credit name=”courtesy Anne Swager” align=”alignnone” width=”300″][/media-credit]

This year, the Educational Excellence Campaign, the PTSO’s largest fundraiser, hopes to purchase student response systems, tablet computers and an ACT/SAT online tutoring program for this school.

by Malini Gandhi

The teacher’s question, “Who read the chapter last night?” is a common one, one that normally goes unanswered as students slump in their seats and look away. But with student response systems, students supplied with small blue “clickers” can hit a button and anonymously provide honest answers.
Student response systems, which can be used for everything from collecting opinions from the classroom to getting quiet students to participate, may be one of the new resources coming to this school next year through the PTSO’s Educational Excellence Campaign (Ed Ex), according to Anne Swager, an organizer of the campaign along with Marion Golin.
Ed Ex, which is the PTSO’s largest fundraiser, is “targeted specifically at enriching this school’s educational experience through providing supplementary funds to meet the ever-changing requirements of a modern high school,” according to the Ed Ex website.
This year, in addition to student response system “clickers,” Ed Ex hopes to purchase tablet computers, small mobile computers with touch screens that “provide in-class access to the internet, library databases, online software, shared Google Docs and e-textbooks,” according to the website.
The campaign also hopes to fund a pilot program that will provide students with free access to online SAT and ACT tutoring through the Naviance system. Swager said that the guidance department is “eager to start this program” because the test preparation software can be “very expensive if bought privately.”
These three goals are just a few of the many target projects Ed Ex has tackled since it was first instated in 2007, according to Golin. Over the last five years, the campaign has raised over $130,000 for a breadth of new resources and technologies, an accomplishment Golin said is “very exciting.”
“It’s really gratifying to see the cumulative impact of this campaign and how beneficial these purchases have been to teachers and students. Teachers and staff have been incredibly enthusiastic and appreciative of the resources we’ve provided. Most of our purchases are items that are used by the entire student body, so the impact is very broad,” Golin said.
The PTSO initially launched the campaign because the School Council had realized that much of the resources and technology in the school were out of date, according to Golin. Before the switch to the new building, the microscopes used in biology classes were from 1959 and only two of the computer labs were even connected to the Internet.
“We thought that a fundraiser targeted specifically at the purchase of resources for enhancing and updating the educational experience at the school would be something parents would be interested in,” Golin said.
And so, the Ed Ex campaign was born.
According to Swager, each year, the process begins with the PTSO organizers “sitting down with principal Jennifer Price to talk about the needs of the school and the areas where Ed Ex funds could help.”
Price and the faculty identify projects that will directly address the needs of the schools, and “together, we decide on the target purchases that fit with Ed Ex’s educational mission,” said Swager.
“All of our inspiration comes from the creative faculty and staff of North. It is their ideas of how to create a more enriched learning environment for students that drives the campaign,” she said.
After identifying their goals for the year, Swager and Golin work with a student in the Design and Visual Communications class to create a brochure, Swager said. The brochure, which incorporates original artwork that corresponds to each year’s goals, is printed by students in Graphics and mailed to every family in the school. Subsequent e-mails also advertise the campaign to encourage donations, according to Swager.
Most donations come from families of students and alumni, In addition, some businesses contribute and some funds are matched, Swager said.
The donations are funneled into a variety of projects, according to the Ed Ex website. The campaign donated $15,000 to the Innovation Lab, money which was used to fund five Innovation Lab projects, including an Innovation Lab class for juniors and seniors.
Funds from the campaign were also poured  into the creation of an open, interactive learning environment in the Library Learning Commons. A large portion of the money from the campaign was used to purchase around 700 books and up-to-date print-reference materials for the Learning Commons’ collection, as well as to fund the installation of three computer labs and laptops in the Learning Commons.
Librarian Annette Tate said that the money from Ed Ex has “allowed us to do with our book collection what we’d been wanting to do for years.”
“In the past few years, we’ve been able to get our collection up-to date, which provides students with books that are new, clean, fresh and just all-around more appealing. All of this was because of Ed Ex money,” Tate said.
Finally, the campaign is responsible for the purchasing of biotechnology equipment for all biology classes, the installation of interactive whiteboards in many classes and the organization of Collaborative Teacher Teams to allow teachers to share materials and ideas.
According to Swager, Ed Ex holds a valuable place in the school community.
“Budgets are tight everywhere, and a fund like Educational Excellence allows us to enhance education just a bit more. Combining our funds with ones that the City of Newton and other sources such as the Newton Schools Foundation provide allows North to do things that would not otherwise be possible.”
To make a donation to the Ed Ex campaign, go to edex.northptso.org.