An inner-city Toronto school is using technology to turn around its academic performance.

George Harvey Collegiate Institute, near Keele and Eglinton, has seen students’ grades soar and violence drop over the last seven years as it ramps up its IT abilities to make the classroom a collaborative concept.

“I hate the fact that kids power down when they come to school. I want them to stay powered up,” says principal Anthony Vandyke. The low-income area school had suffered from high drop-out rates and rising absenteeism. “It had a vision of being a cyber-studies school. However, it didn’t have all the equipment.”

George Harvey partnered with Epson Canada to bring Powerlite projectors and Smartboards to the classrooms. That makes chalkboards a virtual place where teachers can share and save information with students and parents and allows them to go online in class to answer tough questions. The colourful graphics add pop to the lessons and the built-in closed captioning helps the hard of hearing.

“This project is a great fit with Epson. How students are taught, and learn, is changing, and technology is much more integral to the education curriculum,” says Epson’s Tamara Walsh.

“Epson is committed to developing technology and education-focused programs so that teachers have access to 21st-century learning tools.”

Separately, the school has built up its supply of computers from 180 to 700, with a plan to get a laptop for every student to lease at an affordable price. Grade 9 students take a mandatory computer course. “We’re starting to work on wikis and blogs,” says Vandyke.

The student population has risen from 400 seven years ago to 880 today. Half the students go on to university and 40 per cent go to college, up from a total of 20 per cent seven years ago.

“The kids know there is a purpose and a function,” explains Vandyke. “And this is not a school where we hand-pick our kids. The kids come here and we make the best of the students we get.”

The high-tech approach engages students on their own terms and better prepares them for modern careers.

“You begin to integrate how teaching occurs,” he says. “It helps engage students in what they see as a friendly atmosphere.

“Teachers are no longer the owners of knowledge. Kids can find information wherever they want; the teachers’ expertise is how to facilitate and find the knowledge, to disseminate the knowledge and then apply it.”

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