A few years ago, only one classroom at Walnut Hill Elementary had a computer, and it was ancient. The computer lab had 28 computers, but those were outdated, too. And there was no Internet access anywhere in the school.

So, how did Walnut Hill Elementary wind up receiving the 21st Century School of Distinction Award in the area of technology implementation?

It’s due in large part to the efforts of former principal JoAnne Hughes and a group of dedicated teachers, particularly teacher technologist Jeri Kitner.

Today, Walnut Hill boasts a long list of up-to-date technological equipment: seven Internet-connected computers, six digital cameras, a digital movie camera, 28 AlphaSmarts (basic word processing devices for students to use in the classroom), 10 handheld computers, 40 teacher laptops, 244 desktop computers, 14 Palm Pilots and eight Smartboards (touch-sensitive interactive tools, combined with a computer and projector, that teachers can use for a variety of lessons). The school also has an automated weather station, complete with outside camera, in its science lab.

The award, created by Intel Corporation, Scholastic Administrator and the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Foundation, is no paltry honor: Walnut Hill and 19 other schools around the country beat out 1,300 applicants to be named 21st Century Schools.

But if the award itself is a big deal, the rewards that come with it are even bigger. The school received a $10,000 grant and more than $100,000 in materials, including 100 Windows XP site licenses from Microsoft, $3,500 in software from Pitsco, another Smart Board and more. The grant will be used for staff development and training.

Principal Brian Lusk, who took the reins from Hughes this year, says the rewards have been so great that “it’s been difficult to find the time to implement all these new materials. It’s a good problem to have,” he adds with a laugh.

He’s also quick to give credit where it’s due, adding that much of this couldn’t have been accomplished without Hughes, who was Walnut Hill’s principal for 10 years. In fact, at a recent school-wide celebration, Lusk announced that the school’s computer lab would be renamed the JoAnne Hughes Technology Center.

He also says the support of the school’s business partner, IBM, has been key, and that the school staff’s dedication is also important to recognize, particularly that of Kitner.

“She has been an avid supporter and really ambitious about finding cutting edge technology to implement at the school,” Lusk says.

With this award, Walnut Hill is proud to set an example for the entire community, he says.

“It sets an expectation for the school and the community, and it sends a message as to what our priority is. And technology is a priority.”

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