Educators huddle to find new ways to reach students

South Pointe High School classrooms were full of eager students Tuesday, but they weren't teenagers.

More than 400 teachers and administrators gathered for day one of a two-day conference on how to keep students engaged in school. The conference will continue today.

The workshop drew participants from Rock Hill, Clover, York, Spartanburg, Union County, N.C., Clinton Junior College and the Boys and Girls Club, among others.

Harriet Jaworowski, Rock Hill's associate superintendent for instruction and accountability, said this year's program is an expansion of a smaller professional development program the district has held in the past.

"Our focus is on reaching those students we believe we're not reaching," she said.

Participants heard keynote speakers and then chose from a variety of sessions in classrooms throughout the building to fill the rest of the day.

Sessions, many of which were taught by local teachers, covered topics from providing extra time and support to students, to integrating audio-visual technologies into lesson plans. They gave teachers and administrators time learn new skills and to share strategies that have worked at different schools.

Some addressed all grade levels and others were tailored more to certain age groups.

Jaworowski said she hopes the conference will become an annual event.

By mid-morning Tuesday, participants already began to feel it was worth their time to attend.

"So far I've learned that no matter where a child comes from they still can be reached, you've just got to find that niche," said Portia Stokes, who teaches statistics at South Pointe as she waited to enter a workshop on higher order thinking.

Stokes said that during the rest of the conference she would like to learn new ways to reach students who have different learning styles.

Educators who work outside the classroom benefited from the event as well.

Randye Polk, the media specialist at Rawlinson Road Middle School, said she hopes to take away an understanding of how she can reinforce what children are being taught in the classroom when they visit the library.

"I wanted to figure out how I could help the teachers," she said.

Here's a sample of workshops offered during the student engagement conference:

• Building learning communities through mentoring and after-school programs: Participants learned how to increase parental involvement and to start character education and mentoring programs in their schools.

• Internet research strategies: Educators learned ways to make Internet searches more efficient and how to create a list of useful Web sites.

• Got Blog? Why school leaders should be blogging: Participants looked at blogs, or Web logs, discussed their relevance to the teaching profession and learned how to create their own blogs.

• Engaging students using technology through project-based learning: Teachers were shown how students can use computers do projects on topics they already are studying.