iPads in high schools: High schools embrace technology and fine arts

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Rachael Vacanti
CONTRIBUTOR

In the past five years, high school has changed dramatically, especially in the arts, technology and private schools.

Professor Adam Tyma, the graduate program chair at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, uses technology in the classroom, but only utlizes what his students already use.

“If it helps me with what I’m trying to do, then do it. I don’t use it just to use it – everything should have a utility purpose,” Tyma said.

Yet Tyma wonders if it should be used all the time, especially in K-12 education.

“At a certain point, students in the K-12 need to disconnect and be 16-year-olds,” Tyma said.

Though that would certainly help, there’s no stopping parents from giving screens to their kids atyounger and younger ages. As a result, these people are becoming conditioned to consistently look at screens.

“With a tablet, you don’t really need fine motor skills. You need one finger that can push things – or swipe,” Tyma said.

Concordia Lutheran Jr./Sr. High School at 156th and Fort instigated an iPad initiative during the 2014-2015 school year, according to business teacher Amanda Lee. Lee noted that the director of schools, “really liked the amount of technol-ogy available to the students right at their fingertips.”

If it were up to Lee, she’d do it differently.

“My preference would be laptops more than iPads just because of the functionality of them and the fact that they’re going to be using them more in the coming years,” Lee said.

Curriculum is designed not around the technology itself, but instead utilizes the main technological functions, which would then be adapted for whatever new piece is out.

While some schools buy the technology and then loan it out to students, just as they would textbooks, Concordia requires families to buy an iPad of their own since they don’t have the financial means to even begin the program. However, when the student owns the iPad, the control lessens considerably and needs to be monitored.

“You have to learn the self-monitoring now,” Lee added.

And while technology is great, it can never replace the arts.

“From the school perspective it tends to be mostly music and then obviously art – visual art – and then if you get into fancy stuff you have drama, you have more specific theater things,” said Natalie Rhebein, a music instructor at Concordia.

Rhebein noted that often arts were left out of regulation.

“The biggest thing is that arts, for a long time, weren’t a part of the things the government’s regulating,” said Rhebein. “Obviously you have to have your students at a certain level.”

While public schools do a lot of state testing, Rhebein said that if it’s not on the test, it usually doesn’t matter.

“When it’s not on the test, it’s not a high priority,” Rhebein said.

Because the arts can get expensive, it’s difficult to keep them around.

“It seems like a good way to get a lot of money out of your budget quickly,” said Rhebein, who noted that it gets expensive buying equipment and traveling.

Yet it’s the private schools who can pull it off easier.

“Private schools, there tends to be a bit more flexibility in the funding and private schools can choose which things they prioritize,” said Rhebein. “It’s more on the music teacher at a private school to make sure the arts are a priority.”

In fact, music has been evident since the beginning.

“For as long as we have recorded history, we have evidence of music, so it’s an integral part of our society that I think a lot of people take for granted,” Rhebein said. “If you accept it as an important part of history, it becomes more important.”

When people think about the arts, it is different than what one would imagine.

“I don’t think people always think of live performance,” said Emily Mokrycki, a drama instructor at Burke High School. “I think people really think about, like, movie stars, and musicians who are on the radio.”

Mokrycki believes this to be because people connect with movies and music more than live performances such as theater. Yet in Nebraska, it is a little different.

“In Nebraska, to be a class A school you have to a full-time theater department or you don’t get to be a class A school,” explained Mokrycki.

With Burke being one of the biggest schools, the numbers are staggering.

“Our productions usually involve about 60 students to about 200 students depending on the production,” Mokrycki said.

“Overall I think we have around 200-250 students involved every year,” she added.

With those numbers, come big price tags, with shows ranging from $1,000 to $24,000.

Even though people don’t think of the visual arts, Mokrycki believes differently.

“I think anything that is performance has a visual component to it,” she explained.

“Part of how you present whether it’s theater or drama or choir or band, you have to have a physical component to be able to play your instrument or hold your body correctly to sing.”

Both Burke and Concordia participate in the Nebraska High School Theater Arts Award Showcase, a national program that was brought to Nebraska three years ago.

“Each school that participates pays $100 and then they get to participate in all the Broadway-level workshops that they have,” Mokrycki explained.

At the end of the school year, the program culminates in a big show honoring the top seven shows, leads and other categories. They also select a male and female finalist who win a fully-funded trip to New York to work with real Broadway choreographers with the other finalists from other states.

“They don’t pick a one solid winner, which I think is important in the arts considering it’s really hard to determine what is the best when everything is such a vastly different type of style and performance,” Mokrycki said.

Sometimes however, fine arts and technology mix together.

“Especially with sound and lights,” Mokrycki said. “That’s a huge part of our crew side. We spent about $8000 upgrading elements in our auditorium last year.”

Although Mokrycki notes that it’s a big learning curve that she must learn and then teach the students, but she accepts that fact.

“Technology plays a huge part and it’s kind of an expectation,” Mokrycki said.

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