Local school system hopes for better test scores to offset past struggles

Students Zy’taja and Leya work on a project in their classroom at Andrews Elementary School. Photo by Bryce Little.

This article was a semester long product of a look into the local school system in Alamance County, N.C. For the original article, click here.

During the week of May 17, principals, teachers and administration in the Alamance-Burlington School System will be holding their breath.

On May 17 students in grades three through eight will take their End-of- Grade tests, and the county is hoping test scores will improve.

In the past, ABSS has struggled with poor test scores and an overall stigma of subpar academic quality. While some still see it this way, others say the school system is beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

But, this light has always been harder to see for the schools in Alamance County.

Out of the 33 elementary, middle and high schools in the county, as well as one middle college and one alternative education center, 13 of the schools are considered Title One schools. Title
One refers to schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. In turn, they receive supplemental funding from the United States’ Department of Education.

The schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in order to keep receiving funds, a requirement that was passed under the No Child Left Behind Act signed in 2001 by former President George W. Bush.

In AYP, for every subgroup that a school has, a set percentage of each must pass the reading test and the math EOG tests proficiency targets), according to Dain Butler, director of accountability services for ABSS.

A subgroup must include at least 40 students and is organized by demographics that include white, black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and limited English proficiency student, Butler said.

Each group is counted twice, once for the math test and once for the reading. They are counted once again for attendance in which 95 percent of each subgroup must be present at the test.

Essentially, then, each subgroup is counted four times. If there are five subgroups in a school, then there are 20 targets. One extra target is always added. In this case, the school would need to make 21 out of 21 targets in order to make AYP.

When a school does not meet its AYP targets for two years in a row, it is considered a school “in school improvement.”

This means that parents have the option to send their child to another school outside their district. A school gets “out of school improvement” if it meets its AYP targets two years in a row, according to Butler.

In addition to serving mostly low income schools, Alamance County receives less federal funding than counties surrounding Alamance.
ABSS Superintendent Randy Bridges said he does not know the reason for this. Every year ABSS submits a local budget to county commissioners.

“We try to communicate our needs, and at the same time, we do the best with what we’ve got,” he said.

Testing tribulations

Since Bridges took his position as superintendent four years ago, he said he has seen vast improvement in testing through eight went up.

“Last year was a phenomenal year for ABSS,” Bridges said.

EOG tests are administered to grades three through eight in math and reading at the end of every academic year. EOC tests are given to all high school grades in the areas of Algebra 1, Algebra II, English 1, Biology, Civics, U.S. History and Science at the end of each semester. Students take each if enrolled in all those classes. Algebra 1, English 1, Biology, Civics and U.S. History are required for graduation, Butler said.

The testing in Alamance County has not come without controversy and many do not feel comfortable with the testing system.

Burlington resident Leah Ann Godwin has two children in ABSS and said she thinks not enough is being done to prepare students for testing, nor is it stimulating enough.

“I don’t think they prepare them through the school year,” Godwin said, noting that her children receive testing review only about a week before the actual tests. “And I think they should make it more fun.”

According to Deborah Long, Elon University education professor and director of the Elon Academy, testing in Alamance County is a crisis that needs attention.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Long said. “There’s so much emphasis on testing that I think for a lot of teachers, the life has been drained out of them. I think there are a lot of really dedicated teachers who are working really hard and really care about the children that they’re teaching, but the whole emphasis on testing has just taken the life out of teaching.”

Associate communications professor Glenn Scott has an 11-year-old son in ABSS. He said that while tests are important, they should not be the only measure of performance.

“I don’t worry that the school system here isn’t testing enough,” Scott said. “I wish that there was more energy put into other attempts to teach our children to think deeply and creatively because I think in the long run, that’s what really makes fine, successful people.”

He said overall, though, more focus is put on testing at a national level than it used to be.

“I’d like to see less ultimate influence on testing and more on the development of thinking and writing skills,” Scott said.

Scott said for the most part, he has seen a great deal of commitment from parents with children in ABSS toward their children’s education. Part of how well children learn, he said, depends on how much of an emphasis parents put on reviewing and learning at home.

“I think what we would all agree upon is that we wish the school district here would see gradual, sustained growth in performance of the students,” he said.

David Cooper, dean of the Elon University School of Education, meets regularly with Bridges to enhance the relationship between the university and the school system. He said while scores are rising, more needs to be done to raise the bar.

“According to the way the state of North Carolina tests students, it’s one of those glass-half-empty, glass-half-full kind of scenarios,” Cooper said. “If you look at the ABSS data from one perspective, you would say there’s progress particularly in the elementary areas at End-of-Grade scores. The glass-half-empty scenario is that the bar for that is set pretty low. Passing scores are not terrifically high.”

He said the same of the system meeting the federal guidelines through AYP goals.

“The majority of schools are meeting the federal guideline … The majority of ABSS schools are making that AYP status,” Cooper said. “(But) in one sense, you can say, yes, they’re meeting the federal standard mostly, and each year most schools meet that standard. On the other hand you could say, well, is that a standard you really want to aspire to?”

Why the low scores?

According to several members of the ABSS administration, though, the reason test scores have been low in the past is because of a re-norming of EOG tests in recent years.

The math EOG test was re-normed in the 2005-2006 school year, and the reading EOG test was re-normed in the 2007-2008 school year.

When these tests are re-normed, they tend to be made more rigorous, Butler said.

“Any time a test becomes more rigorous or challenging, typically we see a drop in our overall scores,” he said. “It doesn’t mean our students are doing worse, per se, or they didn’t do as well as they did last year, it just means that on this new, more challenging test, the scores are not going to indicate what we saw the year before because this is a different test. You’re comparing apples to oranges.”

The state of North Carolina hopes every school has at least 60 percent of its students pass the EOC and EOG tests and they make progress. If progress occurs, the school has made growth.

John Swajkoski, the principal at Turrentine Middle School, said when the tests were re-normed, he saw a 10-20 percent drop in Turrentine students’ scores.

“Everybody took a major hit,” he said. “So educators understood the fluctuation in test scores, but the general public I don’t think did.”

Last year, Turrentine did not make its AYP goals. It met 28 out of 29 subgroups, but because Turrentine is not a Title One school, it will not be affected by the option to have children attend another school outside their designated district.

“The public would see it as ‘well Turrentine didn’t meet their AYP goals,'” he said. “Well no, we didn’t. But if you were a basketball player and hit 28 out of 29 free throws, that’s pretty doggone good.”
Martha Caulder, principal of Andrews Elementary School in Burlington, said her students’ scores took the same dive.

“We continue to revamp the tests … to fit what the state is expecting of all schools in North Carolina,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like it, but principals and staff alike just have to remember education is constantly changing. This is the standard that has been put before us, and this is what we have to do to meet it.”

Finding a solution

Both the Turrentine and Andrews schools are making strides to combat the EOG test re-norming and are seeing improvement.

“We know that students need to be much more engaged in the lessons,” Swajkoski said. “One of the things Turrentine is trying to do is to focus in on student engagement.”

Turrentine’s most recent approach has been the “Strive for five, be great with eight” initiative.

“If we can raise each individual child’s test scores by five points, we’ll improve in our scores,” he said. “If we raise them by eight points, we’ll have a shot at being a school of distinction, which is our goal.”

Turrentine has also taken advantage of the Literacy First program, in which all ABSS middle schools are participating. In the program, teachers are trained in teaching specific concepts, such as phonics, word skills and word patterns in depth.

Student engagement is the main staple at Andrews, too.

“We’re doing a lot,” Caulder said. “At this school it’s all about making sure the students are growing, the teachers are motivating students and students are engaged.”

One part of the engagement is the Little Leaders program. The program, which is taken advantage of by four ABSS schools including Andrews, provides students with the opportunity to have the same teacher for four years from kindergarten through third grade.

The children attend school on a year-round basis and are able to go on field trips in the community. The program began last summer, and ABSS administration members are eager to see the impact it may have, Caulder said.

Last year, Andrews made all of its 21 AYP targets.

“Your job as a teacher is to make sure students are learning and growing, regardless of the testing umbrella that hangs over everybody’s head,” Caulder said. “You still have to make sure you are coming to school to do the job you were hired to do, which is growing children and being motivators of children.”

Making progress

The elementary and middle schools are not the only ones making strides to improve. In 2006, Cummings High School in Burlington was threatened to be shut down by the state because of the lack of quality.

Lynn Briggs was hired as one of the co-principals for Cummings, and every position, including the janitorial staff, was re-interviewed. Curriculum content coaches were also hired.

“We decided that in order for us to be successful, we had to build a strong, stable staff because the turnover here was unbelievable and the staff was not as strong as it needed to be,” said Briggs, the current principal of Cummings. “We also had to change the culture here because the culture was ‘come to the mall and have a good time.’ Test scores were not what they needed to be.”

Briggs said Cummings changed the culture by setting boundaries and high expectations as well as hiring well-qualified teachers. Since then, the school has made vast improvements, Briggs said.

“The first year, test scores dropped,” Briggs said. “Anytime you change the culture of a school, that’s what happens initially. Every year since then, they’ve shown steady growth.”

Cummings still has a way to go, though. According to Briggs, 30 percent of students read at a seventh grade reading level or higher. Cummings also does not offer any in-school Advanced Placement classes because of lack of interest from students, Briggs said.

Cummings does allow students to go to nearby schools to take AP classes or students can take them online through the North Carolina Virtual Public High School.

The Elon Academy

Another helpful entity that has improved Cummings’ achievements is the Elon Academy. The Elon Academy began in 2006 through a partnership with Cummings and Elon University when Cummings was threatened with closure.

The three-year program focuses on an intense college initiative for students with significant financial need and/or no family history of college. The program comprises three four-week residential summer experiences and year-round monthly Saturday programs.
Long became the director and began recruiting Alamance County students for the program in the fall of 2006.

About 2,000 letters were sent out to every Alamance County high school freshmen, and about 100 students completed an application, she said.

The first Elon Academy class began in 2007 with 26 members. These students have now been accepted to universities such as Radford, Wingate, Swarthmore, Middlebury and Smith. They will graduate from high school this month.

“We have these young people whom these colleges, as we hoped for, are really fighting over,” Long said.

Currently, the Elon Academy works with seven ABSS schools.
In addition, Cummings also participates in the “Go 4 College” program that allows Cummings students to visit Elon’s campus, sit in on classes and talk to other students.

“The way out of the cycle of poverty is by education, I think,” Long said. “If we can start getting some of these students who are growing up in high poverty situations and get them an education so they can live a more fulfilling life … when they have children, their children will be educated. It’s a long-term solution.”

Cooper said ABSS needs to set the bar higher.

“I think what ABSS could do to help itself is to aim higher,” he said. “To adopt a view that is kind of like what Elon (University) has adopted, which is ‘why not be great?’ Why settle for adequate when great is within reach?”

Moving forward

One way to move from adequate to exceptional, Bridges said, is to adopt a new model of education, not just within ABSS, but globally.
“The traditional model doesn’t work for all kids,” he said. “What students need, really, is very simple: they need more time and they need more help. We have to figure out ways to address those two things.”

Bridges said one way to replace the traditional model of teaching that has been used for years is to come up with more engaging solutions.

“Kids are smarter. They know more,” he said. “Hopefully in my career, before that’s over, we will make some significant changes in the model, the delivery system that we will provide to these kids. It’s the same one they used when I was in school, and the two don’t match.”

According to Bridges, the key word in this puzzle is innovation. Technology, he said, is something kids need more of in the school system.

Currently, ABSS uses E-Rate money given by the federal government for special rates on telephone services and classroom technology to install new equipment.

Turrentine has a wireless campus, and each teacher has been given a laptop. The school is currently looking into getting a SMART Board, an interactive computerized board that students can work with.

Andrews has eight SMART Boards: one for every grade in kindergarten through fifth, one for gifted classes and one for English as a second language classes. All Andrews teachers have PC desktop computers as well.

Caulder says it’s not enough, though.

“In my perspective as a principal, Andrews needs to raise the bar on technology,” she said.

She is hoping to get more SMART Boards in the classroom.

“Most of the time schools have to be real creative with their money in regard to how you can get more technology,” Caulder said. “That’s something we’re trying to do here.”

Briggs has the same feeling for Cummings. The school has two computer labs, three mounted SMART Boards, one mounted active board and are in the process of obtaining another SMART Board.

“We’re working towards more technology,” Briggs said. “There’s just not enough money to keep up with it. Any teacher that requests something, we try to honor it.”

Briggs said it is difficult to compete with other schools in technology. Kids are coming into Cummings with more technological skills, and Cummings must try to fit that need. She said any leftover funds she has at the end of the year will go toward technology.

Bridges said ABSS is always trying to look for grants to obtain more technology in the schools.

“We are not where we need to be technology-wise, and resources have been scarce in that arena,” Bridges said. “(But)I think we’ve been able to make some really good progress in the last three or four years. We have probably put more emphasis on technology in my time here than previously and that’s driven by the students.”

Bridges said that with new innovation and increasingly engaging curriculum, ABSS will continue to do better.

“The kids are expanding their knowledge and we can’t be a barrier to that,” he said. “We need to support that.”

In addition, he said leadership is improving and teacher turnover rate is not as high. He hopes scores for the tests that take place next week will continue to improve as they did last year.

“We try to operate under the mindset that it’s always about continuous improvement,” he said. “How can we get better because we know there is room for improvement in everything that we do … Do we have much work to do? Of course. But I feel really good about the direction that we’re headed.”

Panel Session: The Future of Learning IS the Internet

Cathy Davidson with HASTAC lead the panel on the future of learning and the web

The following was written for the FutureWeb 2010 conference. The original article can be found here.


A group of digital-tools-wielding faculty from Duke University gathered to share their insights at the FutureWeb session on learning and the Web. “The real challenge is how to bust open the walls of the university,” said Laurent Dubois, an educator who leverages world cup soccer in his teaching. “To no longer think about the classroom as a settled place; it sets up a relationship of authority and knowledge.”

The panel discussed the future of education and how it will be affected by the emerging technologies of the Internet. The moderator was Cathy Davidson, Duke professor and creator of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory).

Negar Mottahedeh has utilized the Web in one of the most original ways seen yet to get through to students. She created the first-ever Twitter Film Festival, where each student tweeted three things about a film she had posted on their course blog. The festival lasted two days and had approximately 300 followers.

“I feel very strongly that my students are in a place of privilege,” she said referring to their access to the Internet. “I’m constantly wondering how I can make a difference, how we can make a difference.”

Mottahedeh said social media can also benefit students in education because there is an immediate response among one another.

Davidson said the Internet serves as a place for students to up the ante in their work. She said when students write papers that will be posted on the Web for millions to see, they take more pride in their work and do a better job than when they simply hand it in to a professor to read.

The rapid pace of getting information on the Internet helps, she added. “There’s something about this culture that wants education to be retrograde, to not be urgent,” she said. “It needs to be urgent.”

Davidson said she also feels strongly about allowing students to use their laptops and other portable Internet-wired devices in class. She challenges them to find information quickly on their computers in class and relay what they find to fellow students.

“Most schools are in an age of digital lockdown,” she said. Davidson said that by forcing students to put away the technology, they are not able to take advantage of what it can allow them to learn. She grinned, saying that students do not pay attention any more when their laptops are not allowed in the classroom.

O’Driscoll said he allows students to Tweet in class to get feedback on how his lesson is going – he can tell this way if the students are bored and when they are gaining a lot of value out of the content being covered. This year, he had students produce and edit a movie for a class project instead of writing term papers. “I try to use as much as what’s publicly out there,” he said, referring to various Internet platforms students can use.

While the Web brings new opportunities to the classroom, the panelists said it is still important to remember the finest traditions behind teaching. “It remains important to think about what great teachers have done to be great teachers and to not lose sight of that,” Neal said. “We need to get students to remember the nuts and bolts of things that we do in classrooms.”

Neal said it is vital to teach students how to think, and teachers are still not being given enough of these tools. He added that there is fluidity in classroom when students are allowed to interact with the Web. “They’re going to respond to what they like,” he said.

Davidson cited one groundbreakig example of utilizing technology in the classroom – the Quest to Learn School in New York, which teaches academically disadvantaged children through the use of video games.

“They’re doing incredible things,” she said.

-By Laura Smith, Imagining the Internet

Future of Media panel led by ibiblio’s Paul Jones searches for answers

The following is an article originally posted on the FutureWeb2010 conference blog (http://futureweb2010blog.wordpress.com/) on Paul Jones, who will lead the panel on the future of the media at FutureWeb.

To Paul Jones, the future of media will be based on a successful business model and new innovations working hand-in-hand with the Internet.

Jones, director of the archival project, ibiblio, and professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will host the panel of the future of media and the Web at FutureWeb 2010.

Panelists will include Penny Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at University of North Carolina, Michael Clemente, Senior VP of News for FOX News, Dan Conover, experienced news reporter and blogger, and Doc Searls, Berkman Center Fellow at Harvard.

“My panel members are from all different media, they’re all from different levels,” Jones said. “So there’s some tough questions out there for all of them.”

Panelists will discuss different topics on the future of the media and how they relate to the ever-changing Internet.

Convergence

Jones said convergence of the Internet and new technology will alter how consumers use different kinds of media.

“What becomes of television when it is on demand?” Jones said. “You don’t go to it, it comes to you.”

Jones relates this instantaneous receiving of media as a change in how technology is being developed and distributed.

“A lot of these people are remaking themselves,” he said “(They are) looking at business models, looking at trying to understand what the impact will be whether there’s actually convergence…whether we’re converging socially or personally… The real challenge is what indicators, what kind of history, what kind of past we can put together to do some sort of intelligent guessing.”

The business model and technology

Jones said one of the major questions posed to consumers now is what innovations will arise in the next several years and whether or not they will even come from the United States.

He stressed again that a majority of this will be based on how the business model adjusts to the changing technology.

“One thing we do know is music players were not very successful for a long time until someone combined the business model with a really cool device,” he said. “And it was not consumer electronics people, it wasn’t music people, it was Apple.”

Journalism and Credibility

In terms of how technology may change the face of journalism, Jones said it will be based on how individuals choose to consume media.

People base credibility off of a source’s track record, he said.

“People choose how they look for information,” he said. “We like for it to be fact-based.”

A new age of living “in the cloud”

Today more and more information is being stored through data center and built-in servers through internet-based computing, otherwise known as “cloud computing.”  Companies such as Google and Amazon allow information to be stored through servers than can be accessed via the Web.

Jones said there is some risk of privacy intrusion but it is similar to putting money in the bank, where it could be stolen.

“Data is no different,” he said.

But above privacy needs, people want to get more out of these platforms, he said.

“You have to wonder what degree that you’re giving and getting back whether it’s an Amazon service or Google service,” he said.  “The answer is I think more people want mobility, multiple access points and greater synergy derived from their data than they want data privacy to any extreme degree.”

The concept of privacy, though, has changed due to technology, Jones said. He attributes it to change in living environments, where people used to live in smaller town environments but now live in a more fast-paced suburban environment.

“People had anonymity and the ability to remake themselves constantly,” he said. “Now they all seem to know each other.”

His work with ibiblio

Jones runs ibiblio, a data archival site that hosts open source software and is run by the School of Information and Library Science and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC. Formerly known as SunSITE.unc.edu and MetaLab.unc.edu, its partners include the Center for the Public Domain, IBM, and SourceForge.

New cloud computing platforms are the way ibiblio will grow in the next 18 months, Jones said. His hope is to create a more virtualized way of managing storage for higher access and more flexibility for users.

With these platforms, ibiblio will achieve higher service levels and allow for more creativity, he said.

The future of media

“I think there will be lots of doors into the cloud,” Jones said. “Some of them will be large- like your television screen.”

Jones also predicts technology will change a great deal in size and purpose.

“Generally (technology) gets bigger or get smaller and the middle kind of drops out or is just kind of there.”

As far as the new iPad goes, “I’m not drunk on it yet,” Jones said.

He said the kinks need to be worked out first before anyone can really see how much of an impact it may have in changing how one receives and uses media.

Jones also said the use of projection technology may become a new trend and elements of the Sixth Sense technology (which allows for augmentation of the physical world with digital information) http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html will become prevalent.

The major element of importance for consumers of new media?

Jones said it is all about participation.

“I think one thing we’re seeing is media is more participatory than ever,” he said. “We know what people like about local newspapers: it has a picture of their child on the cover or the winning local basketball team, much more over hard news. People care about what matters in their lives.”

 -By Laura Smith

Cathy Davidson strives for enhanced learning through technology

By Laura Smith

Click here for link to article

Image courtesy of Duke University

The future of the Web is the promise for the future of learning and education according to Cathy Davidson, FutureWeb panel leader.

Davidson, Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, will lead the panel on the Future of Learning and the Web at FutureWeb2010.

Panelists will include Laurent Dubois, historian of French colonialism and the Caribbean,  Mark Anthony Neal,  author and  scholar of Black popular culture in America, Negar Mottahedeh, academic author and Tony O’Driscoll, author of Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration.”

“All the panelists on my panel are public intellectuals who make the fullest use of the Internet and mobile technologies for the work they do out in the public,” Davidson said. “They are very public and political intellectuals who reach different audiences beyond the classroom or the academy. They’re new style educators.”

During the panel session, Davidson is hoping questions will be asked regarding where learning would be without the Internet and where it can go because of it.

“I think the main thing will be asking questions about…how would the world be different, how would learning be different if the Web didn’t exist and how will learning be different because of the web,” she said. “But even more than that, how do the future of the Web and the future of learning go together?”

Learning and technology

Davidson is the co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), a network of individuals and institutions that examine how new technology can aid in education, organization and communication.

HASTAC recently joined the White House on the Educate to Innovate campaign, a movement by President Obama to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

According to Davidson, education and technology can work hand in hand to modernize the way students learn.

“I think there’s some disappointment that learning institutions, formal institutions of education, have not really comprehended the new learning styles used today,” she said. “As individuals, we have done a much better job of accommodating to all the changes in the world than our institutions have. Our institutions are much slower to change than individuals and I think education is often the slowest at changing and the last at change.”

Davidson said she believes education needs to become more collaborative among students.

“Learning has to be much more student driven,” she said. “It has to focus more on collaboration rather than single individual achievement. One thing that HASTAC has pushed very hard since 2002 when we started is something called collaboration by difference….We try to come up with situations where people who are almost opposite in their skill sets or the ways they learn or their interests come together to focus on a problem and to solve that problem together.”

Davidson is a big proponent of using laptops in the classroom and said it is a regular occurrence for her to tell students to get on the Internet in class.

“I say not only should they be sitting there with their laptops, put them to work,” she said. “I try to conduct my class almost like a hypertext with the students participating, linking what’s happening in the classroom to Google searches and flows of information that come back into the classroom from their searches.”

Digital Media Learning Competition

One of HASTAC’s current projects is the 2010 Digital Media Learning Competition in conjunction with the MacArthur Foundation’s $50 million DML Initiative which allows individuals to explore how digital technology is changing learning and everyday life. Winners will be announced the first week of May.

To Davidson, the competition entails collaboration between individuals who can create technology with those who can think critically about it.

“For students it  means two things,” she said. “One is that informal learning is happening in all kinds of ways outside the school systems… We’re all learning how to collaborate, we’re learning how to customize…we’re learning how to participate in new ways. All those constitute new ways of social, civic and cognitive forms of learning.”

Where learning is headed

“The future of learning needs to see more and more of a return to learning by doing, learning by experiment, learning by creative engagement,” Davidson said. “(It needs to be) much more hands-on kinds of learning and I think that’s true in all fields whether we’re talking about the humanities or computer science.”

Davidson said she sees technology aiding in capabilities such as distance learning, teaching via gaming platforms or virtual environments and communication between teachers and students in different parts of the world.

“Digital technologies are a big factor in facilitating collaboration, not just as tools but in the deep structure the thinking,” Davidson said. “Learning is going to be done by communities that are not necessarily communities of people in the same place but distributed communities working together for specific goals.”

Upcoming projects

In addition to her work with the Digital Media Initiative and contribution to the FutureWeb conference, Davidson will soon make history with her book, Now You See it:  The Science of Attention in the Classroom, at Work, and Everywhere Else.

“It is about our ability to see new options when we have the right tools and the right partners,” she said.

Last week, Viking Press Publishers announced its partnership with iPad and the book will be one of the first to be available on the digital tablet.

“My book is going to be among the first generation of books that Viking Press publishes in its partnership with the iPad and that will be designed in multimedia formats, hypertext links, and interactive features and applications that push the boundaries of what a “book” is,” she said. “I’m thrilled.”

Davidson will lead the panel on the Future of Learning and the Web on Friday, April 30.

“I think FutureWeb is going to be as exciting as the WWW Conference,” she said. “Janna Anderson and Paul Jones and others have done an incredible job putting together FutureWeb.”

-By Laura Smith

Interns No Longer Just From Hub Schools — Distant College Points Undergrads to Boston

By Laura Smith http://www.prsaboston.org/newsviews.asp#LETTER.BLOCK7

When Newton, Mass., resident Amanda Pensack went off to college 800 miles away in North Carolina, little did she know she would be promoting some of Hollywood’s biggest movies — as a summer intern at Allied Integrated Marketing, back home in Boston. The Copley Square firm works with major film studios, such as Disney and MGM, and serves as the liaison between the press and its 80 clients.
Pensack, a strategic communications major at Elon University in Elon, NC, was one of two student interns from Elon at Allied last summer. Her experience in the publicity department helping promote films such as “The Hurt Locker,” “Taking Woodstock” and “Fame” was incredibly worthwhile, she said.
 
Students graduating with a communications degree from Elon are required to complete at least one internship during their studies. Students are able to gain credit while living and working in major cities such as Boston.
 
Nagatha Tonkins, Director of Internships and External Relations for Elon’s School of Communications, schedules an extended stay in Boston every year expressly to arrange internship opportunities like Pensack’s. “Our students are very talented in many ways and have strong research, writing, social media, production and Web-based skills.”
 
Another Elon senior communications major, Craig Orsi, spent last summer as an intern with Kortenhaus Communications. The Boston PR firm serves clients in the arts, fashion, hospitality and tourism industries, among others.
 
Orsi worked on pitches, promotional events, strategic plans, media correspondence and graphic design. One of his biggest projects was working on the strategic plan for a condo development.
 
Elon sends interns into the working world every semester and summer. It is in cities such as Boston that these students really get a jump start on their futures, Tonkins predicted.
 
“We have almost 900 majors that participate in a highly interactive curriculum with strong professional ideals, so we have a lot to offer,” she said, adding that she encouraged organizations to contact her about interns for their offices.
 

New insulin source advances diabetes treatment

by Laura Smith, February 16, 2010

The new year has already marked a new advancement for those who suffer from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. SemBioSys Genetics, Inc. in Calgary, Canada discovered the safflower plant has been successful at housing the insulin hormone.

In people without diabetes, insulin is secreted in the pancreas and is the hormone needed to let glucose enter the cells and provide energy. It also maintains blood glucose levels in the body.

With diabetes, the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone.
Currently, insulin is produced in laboratories using genetically engineered bacteria. It costs about $50 a vial and is not readily available to those who are unable to afford it.

According to SemBioSys researchers, the injection of the insulin protein into the safflower plant can produce more than one kilogram of insulin per acre of safflower production. This could be enough to supply 2,500 patients with insulin for one year and be up to 40 percent cheaper.

“Plants have been a source of medicine for thousands of years,” said president and CEO of SemBioSys Genetics, Inc., James Szarko, in a press release. “The innovative nature of our plant-produced platform is drawing interest from pharmaceutical companies due to its ability to provide a low-cost insulin alternative for patients that suffer from this
chronic disease.” The process will work by injecting the flower with

insulin protein and extracting the insulin from the seeds of the flower.

“Once you put the DNA that codes this human insulin protein into the plant, as long as you give it enough of the other DNA that basically tells the plant to make this protein, it’ll make the protein,” biology professor Michael Terribilini said.

Transferring the DNA isn’t easy to do, though.

“The actual inserting a gene into a plant can be tricky,” Terribilini said. “We have lots of good tools for manipulating DNA in just about any way we want. For plants, the trick is getting this gene to actually get inserted into the plants’ own DNA. It’s the only way it works.”

Terribilini said one of his concerns with the safflower injections would be finding the room to grow massive amounts of the plant and whether or not it would harm the natural environment.

“We have some concerns with having these genetically modified plants and where do you grow them, how to keep it from spreading around or affecting the natural wildlife in the area,” Terribilini said.

As the father of a 9-year-old son with Type 1 diabetes, Terribilini said it doesn’t matter to him where the insulin comes from, just as long as it is produced.

“If we can lower the cost of production, do it safely and it works, that’s great,” he said. “What I’m hoping for is the day where we don’t have to have insulin.”
Sophomore Katherine Mantz is a Type 1 diabetic and said the safflower injections could be a great benefit to making insulin more cost effective for her and for those who cannot afford insulin.

“My whole life, my family has been paying a lot of money for insulin. Making it more available and cheaper would overall benefit everyone as a whole,” Mantz said. “I personally use a lot of insulin because my body does not react as sensitively to insulin as some diabetics. This makes me have to use and pay for a lot more insulin. With a cheaper product that is produced in higher quantities, this will not only help diabetics like myself but all diabetics around the world.”

Kitty Parrish, director of health services, also said the process is a good idea.

“Diabetes is expensive and it would bring the cost
down,” Parrish said. “Around the world it would have people living longer because they could treat it.”

According to Parrish, about 20 Elon students report having the disease.

“We don’t have an accurate number because a lot of students don’t report it,” she said. “There are more than that on campus, but that’s all that I know about.”

Parrish also said she has seen a rise in Type 2 diabetes in the past three years.
SemBioSys is beginning the process of human trials in Canadian patients. The company is hoping it will be successful and be able to deliver insulin to more diabetics at a much lower price in the coming years.

“To a diabetic, not having insulin will lead to severe problems,” Mantz said. “This is a life or death situation, and insulin should be less expensive for all who need it.”

Coming soon: The Town Table

by Alexa Milan and Laura Smith, February 9, 2010

The Pendulum

Chris Russell, the owner of several Burlington restaurants including B. Christopher’s, works on his latest dining endeavor, the renovation of Brown and Co. The Elon eatery will be named the Town Table and serve French inspired dishes. Photo by Bryce Little

Upon return to campus following Christmas break, many Elon University students were surprised to hear Brown and Co. had shut its doors for good.

On Dec. 31, the university announced Brown and Co. would be replaced with The Town Table, a new restaurant owned by Elon alumnus Chris Russell of B. Christopher’s, B’s Bistro and Benjamin’s Seafood in Burlington.

According to Russell, The Town Table will feature French brasserie style cuisine as well as American tavern dishes. Some entrees include coq au vin, croque-monsieur, fish and chips and entrée salads.

Lunch prices will range from $8-$10 a person and dinner will range from $14-$18 a person, Russell said. Phoenix cash and meal dollars will both be accepted.

“I’m hoping that my background, culinary-wise, will bring in some more diversity of menu items than was here before,” Russell said. “I think the quality of our kitchen … will be received well.”

The Town Table will feature a street café Parisian atmosphere, new aesthetics and weekly entertainment.

“It’ll be a little bit airier,” Russell said. “It felt like it was very dark (before). It’ll be a happier space.”In addition to a Saturday brunch, the restaurant will have the first Friday musical entertainment.

The first Friday night of each month, there will be live music from both regional and national acts, Russell said.

Russell is signed to a 10-year lease. He said he hopes to open The Town Table at the end of March and is currently searching for student employees.

“I’m very excited about this … getting to know the Town of Elon, the students the faculty,” Russell said. “I’m looking forward to being a member of the Elon community.”

The building on Williamson Avenue where The Town Table will be located housed the original Brown and Co. for more than 20 years. Cantina Roble replaced it in 2002 before the new Brown and Co. opened in fall 2008.

According to Gerald Whittington, vice president for business, finance and technology, the decision to close Brown and Co. and open The Town Table stems from the university’s strategic plan.

“The institution’s new strategic plan has in it, as did the previous strategic plan, a goal to enrich the retail development of Elon for our students, faculty, staff and the townspeople,” Whittington said.

The plan involves an increased presence of retail venues such as restaurants, drug stores and clothing stores not owned and operated by the university.

When the original Brown and Co. closed, Whittington said the university tried to sell the space to local vendors but no one bought it, so the university ultimately decided to purchase the property.

During the summer, the university met with local vendors and asked why they were not interested in opening venues in the Town of Elon. Whittington said most of the vendors were interested but didn’t want the university to perceive them as competition.

“What we would rather do is have them provide all those things (like Russell presented the university with a proposal for a new restaurant in the Brown and Co. space, which would require little renovation and had a prime main street location.

Whittington said the product Russell has established through his other restaurants is “top-rate,” and he hopes The Town Table will be the first of many new businesses in the Town of Elon.

“I think if there’s anybody who could be successful at this, I think he could be,” Whittington said.

According to Whittington, the entire university community has been involved in the process of bringing more retail development to the town. The Board of Trustees approved it in the strategic plan, and Whittington said the Student Government Association was in favor of the idea when the university discussed it with the organization last summer.

Whittington said the students were surveyed a couple of years ago and the university gave their feedback to local entrepreneurs. He said the university generally surveys students every two to three years.

“This is something everybody wants, because you don’t want to go to the same places,” Whittington said. “You want to go out and have a community, your own version of Franklin Street.”

While some students may be excited about the new restaurant, others are sorry to see Brown and Co. go. A Facebook group called “I want my killer cookie!” currently has 278 members.

“I think the closing of Brown and Co. was handled fairly poorly,” said freshman Dan Koch, creator of the killer cookie Facebook group. “I was shocked that the university never sent out an e-mail to let the student body know that Brown and Co. wasn’t coming back.”
Senior Jeff Thurm had a similar reaction.

“I just think it’s ridiculous to close Brown and Co. in the middle of the year,” Thurm said. “I obviously don’t know how business was doing but I know my friends and I went on a weekly, almost religious, basis. Brown and Co. was an Elon college staple and they just brought it back and are now changing it again.”

According to Jeff Gazda, resident district manager for ARAMARK, business was doing well at Brown and Co.

“Actually, the restaurant continued to show improved performance after the renovation last year,” he said.

The change will not affect ARAMARK, the service provider for Brown and Co.

“There will be no significant impact, as this is only one of many locations in which we serve you, the student community,” Gazda said.

According to Vickie Somers, director of auxiliary services, there was no reason why students  were not told about the closing before it happened. She said once the decision was made to lease the space to Russell, plans immediately moved forward.

“There was nothing that was discussed or talked about,” Somers said in reference to telling the students.

Somers also said students missing Brown and Co.’s popular killer cookie and artichoke dip can soon find those items at 1889 Grill Room in the Colonnades.