QUINCY -- Sporting headphones, Lyndale Weatherford sits in front of a computer building skills not only to use in fourth grade at Rooney Elementary School but for life in a digital age.
"It's really cool," Lyndale said.
Working her way through a lesson on Microsoft Word, "I'm learning how to change fonts and colors and to bold, italicize and underline stuff," she said. "I've done that before, but I don't really go into Word a whole lot."
Building familiarity with computers, and computer programs, is one of the goals of new digital literacy lessons offered this year for K-5 students in Quincy Public Schools. Provided during student time in the library media centers, the lessons focus on library literacy, cyber safety, digital citizenship and technology tools.
"It's set up the same way for every single building. The lessons, the discussion questions are set up the same," said Heather Colombo, the school district's library media specialist. "We can assure even kids who knew what they were doing still had access to the same instruction. They just move faster and can go on and start doing the advanced features. We definitely want every kid to know the basics. For kids already at that point, let them learn more."
Even the youngest students need to know about using reliable resources online, how to be kind online, protecting their digital footprint and crediting sources – and Colombo said starting at the earliest grade levels will ensure that students are prepared for technology use in junior high and high school.
At those levels, and increasing at the elementary buildings, curriculum is offered online or supplemented with online resources, but how much familiarity the district's youngest students had "really depended on the specific teacher a student had. It was not necessarily everyone at this school was pretty prepared technologically. It was really classroom to classroom," Colombo said.
"They were coming to the junior high all over the place in terms of their skills. Some kids couldn't type an email, and it's not their fault. It hasn't been a district-wide thing up to this point," she said. "Now we have the opportunity to be completely equitable so that every single kid at every single grade level and every single building has the same chance. They'll be introduced to using Microsoft Word and all kids will be doing keyboarding skills."
Keyboarding was introduced this year for grades 3-5, but mobile computer labs couldn't easily move between the split sites for Baldwin and Denman, so K-2 keyboarding will be added next year along with a focus on cursor and mouse control.
"It's not necessarily about learning the specific skills but learning how to learn the skills," she said. "There's always a new version of Word or Office you have to understand. If you start making them feel comfortable with it at this age, they're going to adapt a lot faster."
Back at Rooney, Lyndale's classmate Kolton England liked working at his own pace with the lessons that underscore some of what he already knows. And just working on the computers is fun, "especially since this one is a touch screen," classmate Aria Burnum said.
Learning more about the computer wasn't hard, and it wasn't easy, for Kolton. "It's more like medium," he said. "I am really techy, but I do like art."
The students in Stephanie Patrick's class work independently, sometimes stopping to ask one another a question or share a tip.
"They're great about helping each other. They learn better from each other," Colombo said. "For the kids who are a little bit ahead, it's a fantastic leadership opportunity for them to share with their peers."
Rooney instructional media paraprofessional Kristie Leaphart emphasized the importance of the skills, such as keyboarding, for both now and the future.
"At the end of the day, if they don't understand the reasoning behind it, it doesn't matter to them. If they don't care how it's going to affect high school or junior high, it's ‘whatever, I can finger peck as easy as anything,' but when you type appropriately, it's going to be faster over time," Leaphart said.
"Technology is such a huge thing going forward. We want students to have the upper hand," Leaphart said. "It's amazing how little they know and how much they know in other regards. It's fun to see their eyes light up and to surprise them with information."
Without a structured K-5 computer class, Colombo wanted to find a way to incorporate skills students need not only for elementary school but especially as they move onto junior high. "It kind of levels the playing field for everyone," she said.
A mobile computer lab and a smartboard designated for the media center provided basic equipment for the lessons taught by the library media staff in each building.
"This was a year for tweaking, for getting in there and getting our feet wet. The more we do, the better it will be," Leaphart said. "Kindergartners this year will be rock stars by the time they're fifth-graders. They will be so knowledgeable and able to do so much more. I'm curious and excited to see how much they grow and how much they know."