ND Corner: Education equity and closing the digital learning gap

By Daisy Thang

Apparent now more than ever, the students of today operate within a constantly evolving world. With the emergence of new ways to cook, clean and communicate, educators are looking at new ways to help students learn.

This search for new ways to empower learners is ceaseless, and schools, teachers and educational companies have begun to join forces with one another to explore how best to do so.

This year, Notre Dame (ND) High School introduced its new collaboration with Digital Promise, a non-profit organization committed to advancing innovation in the educational field. 

Every student possesses the creativity and drive to change the world in one way or another; all they need is to be equipped with the necessary skills and support to do it. A key component of this initiative is the systems and software company Ciena, through which students and staff can access the technology they need to see their ideas come to life. 

ND, Digital Promise and Ciena are approaching educational equity by focusing on closing the digital learning gap to showcase the excellence within every learner. Funding, resources and commitment from school leaders all play monumental roles in student success and students’ ability to thrive as engaged learners. 

Part of the innovative learning strategy being implemented at the school is Digital Promise’s Challenge Based Learning framework. The classes participating in this are given the freedom to identify their own challenges, research their own questions and create their own solutions. Whether that’s starting a podcast, sharing traditional artwork or even writing a column for the local newspaper, students are given full liberty on how they tell their stories. 

Mr. Zapasek is the high-school teacher spearheading this new schooling structure at Notre Dame with his students this year. His aim is to cultivate a strength-based and passion-driven learning environment in his classroom that allows students to find answers in places they’d never expect. Right now, the class is working around the theme of community stories. One student, who chose to interview a parent for their community storytelling project, noted how eye-opening an experience it was when they realized they already had someone in their life as a resource they could tap into. 

Students are given the opportunity to experiment with different media and are getting to practice their technical and creative skills. Through podcasts, PSA scripts, newspaper articles and more, the students in Mr. Zapasek’s class are given full liberty to tackle their challenges as they see fit.

The partnership between Notre Dame, Digital Promise, and Ciena intends to engage and nurture students into lifelong learners, ready to flourish in the dynamic and fluctuating world we live in. The past year serves as a perfect example of how quickly things can change. Obstacles spring up seemingly out of the blue, and at every turn there is something new to adapt to during the pandemic. Who better to rise to the challenge?

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