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Not so long ago, multimedia in schools meant students sitting in front of a desktop computer.

Today, Beatrice Middle School students can spend their afternoons exploring virtual reality, programming robots and flying drones through the media center.

Providing students with the latest opportunities in coding and working with technology is part of an ongoing effort to better prepare them for programing and computer-related jobs by giving them firsthand experience.

On Thursday, School Board members got to experience these programs for themselves during the monthly committee of the whole meeting, in which they got to explore the international space station and create their own works of art in virtual reality from behind an Oculus VR headset.

“We know that our current strategic plan has technology as a huge piece of it and really figuring out ways to help our students and teachers integrate technology to more than a computer that’s in front of them,” said BPS Director of Curriculum Jackie Nielsen. “It’s helping them move to that next step with helping them understand how to use it, how to use it well and how it redefines their educational experience.”

Beatrice Middle School media specialist Karen Dittbrenner said that six years ago, the school had three computer labs and a desktop computer in each classroom. Today, all teachers have laptops and the technology center has 12 Oculus units, achieving a two to one student ratio.

At one time, she thought Beatrice was behind the curve in terms of technology, only to find out after attending a conference the district is actually well-equipped compared to many other schools.

“Through some guidance and some supportiveness from Jackie and our administrators, we’ve got some great technology happening in our buildings,” she said. “I’m excited by it. It’s fun to come to work. It’s fun to see the kids engaged and that’s something that we’re really seeing. If you ask the kids if they’ve been in the VR lab, played with the drones, done programming with the robots, they can tell you.”

Schools are also implementing Chromebooks, limited-use, affordable laptops available to students at a modified one to one ratio, where the computers remain in the classrooms after use.

Nielsen said the ongoing efforts to bring technology into the classroom is helping BPS stay ahead of the curve, and let parents know the district is embracing the new way of teaching.

“I feel that Beatrice, in the last six years that I’ve been here, has really started moving toward starting to lead in the area of technology rather than following,” she said. “We are starting to become the schools that try things out. We want to be that leader.”

Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.

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