Rural school district goes high-tech; big changes expected

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YERINGTON, Nev. (KOLO) There's nothing new about computers in Nevada schools, even those in rural counties. They've been part of the educational landscape here and elsewhere for some time.

But a big change is coming. In the Lyon County School District's warehouse in Yerington, more than two-thousand new laptops sit waiting for installation in the county's schools.

Elsewhere, some of the new infrastructure that will supercharge their use is evident--a terminal for the county's new fiber-optic high-speed broadband system.

The plan -- by autumn -- is to have at least 12 of these computers in each classroom in the county's 18 schools from Smith Valley in the south, to Dayton in the West, Silver Springs and Fernley to the north.

Working with the governor's office of Science and Technology, the county's school district will have resources counties of any size might envy.

"I would say we're probably the envy of all Nevada rural schools," says Director of Information Technology Alan Medeiros.

More than that, says David Peissner of the Skyfiber consortium that built the broadband system. "It means that they can compete with their student education level at the same level as major metropolitan areas can."

The changes aren't limited to hardware. They're going to change the classroom itself and its routine.

Currently, as in many schools, the computers are located in a lab, not the classroom.

"Students currently have to go to a lab of 30 computers to access technology," notes the district's elementary curriculum director Jim Gianotti.

Yerington High School teacher Michelle Farina says that's been a problem.

"Typically it's been pretty difficult to get to computer access and especially when school districts are spending less and less on textbooks, computer access becomes a more important tool for educating our kids, especially about what's going on now."

What's being planned is a whole new educational model, the computers part of the classroom, students no longer working alone at a keyboard, but collaborating... and, well, creating.

"Those four C's will really be in play. Creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking," says Gianotti.

"We're going from the idea of kids being solely consumers of media to actually creating media," adds Farina.

These changes are coming at an important time for these schools. Lyon County, especially areas to the north, are on the cusp of a economic boom fueled by access to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Park. Lots of new families are coming, asking questions about local schools.

Ultimately, however, the biggest changes, Farina says, will be to the young lives being formed in these classrooms.

"They're going to leave my classroom and go into a technological world. They're now going to have to be able to create and think critically and teach others and communicate. That's what today's jobs are going to call for."