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Sentry Foundation donates 3.7 million to expand school technology


STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) -- A major Stevens Point business is putting more money into school technology. The Sentry Insurance Foundation has already invested over six million dollars in technology upgrades for the Stevens Point Area School District, Stevens Point Catholic Schools, and St. Paul’s Lutheran School. This new second phase will invest just under three-point-seven million more dollars in the next three years to expand technology access from high school down into the elementary grades.

Superintendent Attila Wedinger says the use of modern tools help students acquire skills they might not otherwise learn, do better research, and it allows teachers to do a better job. Wedinger says the use of technology like laptops, tablets, and smartboards makes learning exciting and interesting.  “It has made a difference. Students are much more engaged in their learning as a result of the devices that we’ve already put into place, and we’re very excited about the possibility because we have piloted some of those tools, Chromebooks and some of others already in the elementary schools this year.”

Stevens Point Catholic Schools President Todd Kuckkahn says teaching and learning have changed a lot because of technology tools.  “Teachers can put their notes and their lectures, so to speak, on the Ipad, on the technology. The students can take that home, and their homework is to review that lecture in what’s called the flipped classroom. They do that at home, and then when they come to school the next day, the teacher can go through that and go through case studies or go through problems and examples and help the students in the classroom rather than the students struggling at home.”

School Board member Angel Faxon has eight children in the Stevens Point public schools. She says they are all on their own laptop and able to study and complete assignments independently. Faxon says it’s important for young people to use better teaching tools and learn how technology works. “My children are expecting to use technology in their future, no matter what, because they’re using it every day. Something as simple as applying for a job, they're doing it on their laptops. Someone was struggling with Algebra II, they can log onto Khan Academy and do some problems with a teacher there. All of that is accessible because it’s right there, where before, it would be all of us digging through books, or go find your sister who has a question.”

Faxon has a special needs child that benefits from technology tools. By using video chats and emails with lab partners along with online research, he has been learning new science concepts.  “It’s amazing. I think he’s going to succeed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible for him, so it’s exciting to see, and it works for the other kids too, but that’s just been an example where last night, his dad and I were actually in awe of what he accomplished, and that’s because of this technology.”

Sentry Foundation President Jim Weishan says they try to identify projects in the cities where they have offices, and the school technology initiative made a lot of sense both five years ago and again now. He says they also see how technology changes customer service and staff development at Sentry.  “In order to deliver top-level service, you have to have the technology to be able to provide the types of service that customers and individuals have grown to be accustomed to, and their other dealings and other services that are provided, so we need to have the technology to make the best use of the individuals that work here, provide them with the best opportunities and the best information.”

The second phase of technology funding for Stevens Point area schools is only three years, because technology changes rapidly, and having a three year plan allows them to make adjustments before going forward.