The bell rings and 750 students, from kindergarten to 5th grade, exit their classrooms to go to work.

You read that correctly. Chocachatti Elementary School in Spring Hill, Florida, is a performing arts and micro-society school. Kids begin experimenting with careers as early as kindergarten, all of which contribute to a mini-society that’s been created within the school’s campus for the past 20 years. From “crime stoppers” and chefs to bankers and musicians, children get a peek into the real world early on.

With such a progressive education structure, it may surprise you that up until six years ago the technology infrastructure at Chocachatti had much to be desired for. Promethean sat down with principal Lara Silva to dive into how she’s using key technologies to drive development and innovation at her already unique institution.

Promethean's Going to the Principal Series: Lara Silva


Q: Lara, what inspired you to become an educator?

A: It’s one of those age-old things that educators will say: that ever since I was young, I wanted to set up stuffed animals and teach them. I just felt like I could explain how to do something and how to learn something in a way that was easy for people to understand.

As I got older, I just wanted to help teach people and watch that little light bulb go off in their eyes.

Q: Why did you begin working with K-12 students and what’s your favorite part of working with that group as opposed to, for example, higher ed?

A: I got my degree in early childhood, so I was very knowledgeable about the development of young children and how they learned. Understanding the way a child develops, understanding everything that goes into making a healthy child – that’s always been my comfort zone. Whether it’s nutrition, academics or internet safety, everything that goes into making a child healthy has always been important to me. I felt like establishing it in the younger years is the best way to set those lifelong habits. I always wanted to get to them first – before breaking bad habits – to create good ones.

Q: How have elementary students changed since you began your career? What has evolved throughout the course of your career as an educator?

A: I’ve taught all over the state of Florida and from the East Coast to the West Coast, and generally children have not changed in my entire career. But what has changed is that family dynamic. It used to be where there was at least someone home with the child and doing homework with the child. And then it got to the latchkey kids, single-parent homes and blended families. And the shifting dynamic of the home, I believe, is what drastically impacted education. They’re just impacted by their surroundings. I would also say that children are much further along and more technologically savvy than their teachers.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: You have a great school if you have teachers that stay year after year and have years of experience, but the problem with that is technology changes so fast that teachers can’t keep up with it. What happens is you get a generation of children who know more about the technology than you do. They know how to switch things around, navigate through the internet or hide a window and open up another one so you think that they’re doing their online courses, but really, they’re watching YouTube.

Q: What are some of the ways you can combat sneaky students?

A: It’s a matter of the administrator being aware of what the team dynamic is. When you’re hiring people, it’s always good to have fresh, new faces that are coming out of college. They’re closer to the age of the students than some of the veteran teachers are, so that age gap is a little closer. If you have a nice, diverse team, you’ll have that additional support when you’re bringing in new technology. More veteran teachers can rely on the younger, newer teachers that are coming into education to help teach them and keep them on their toes. I think it comes down to hiring, training and putting people together that are at various levels of technology acceptance.

Q: Can you provide me with a little background on your school’s technology journey?

A: We are not a Title 1 school. The population exceeds the poverty level, and we don’t get Title 1 funding like many of my sister schools in the county. We were an established school with little funding, specifically for technology. When I got here six years ago, we had to start at level one. For me, it was most important to get us up to speed.

We started with students stations. Students need to have not only a physical textbook in front of them but the ability to have the internet at their fingertips. They have to be able to do research on the internet. If they’re having a problem with math, a class can go to a YouTube video and have Khan Academy do a tutoring lesson that’s individual to them.

Teachers are expected in their evaluations to give technology to students and have them using it independently based on their own needs. Once that goal was met, then it was, “Okay, how can we impact teaching? How can we make teaching less traditional and more modern?” And that’s when the Promethean ActivPanels came to me.

It’s a great teaching tool for demonstrating how to safely use technology. And it’s also so engaging for the kids because it’s more meaningful to see it actually happening in front of you versus reading a textbook page.

Q: How many classrooms in your school are outfitted with the Promethean ActivPanels? What’s one thing you’re most looking forward to accomplishing with the panels?

A: I believe today it’s 12. We’ve had to purchase every single one of them by fundraising efforts. Obviously, I want engagement. I hand selected these teachers to have these interactive boards in their rooms so that they could be grade level experts. And walking into those classrooms and seeing the lessons that are happening, the kids are proficient and are taking over. The teacher can step back and be more of a facilitator for the students to dive into lessons with instant feedback on what they’re delving into. Teachers can even pull reports of the work that the students have done with these panels.

It’s almost like having a second teacher in the classroom with the ActivPanel. The teacher can be working with a small group at her table, a small group can be working at the ActivPanel and she knows what’s happening. There’s accountability, there’s engagement.

Q: Aside from implementing the student stations, what are some other technologies that were important for you to get in the classrooms for teachers?

A: I would say web-based, differentiated, standards-based curriculums. For example, iReady. It is standards-based and K-5, it’s reading and math, and it’s differentiated. It monitors student frustration level and then identifies their correct track.

That individualization of students working on a curriculum that adapts in real-time to how they’re answering and how they’re progressing provides teachers with great feedback and insight they can use.

Ultimately, nothing can replace a good teacher. You could have a good teacher with a stone tablet and she’s going to be more successful than a classroom full of the best technology with a terrible teacher.

For more insight from our community of education leaders, follow us @Promethean and stay tuned for our next Principal’s Office Q&A.