Merit Network

Saginaw Intermediate School District – Partnering for Better Academic Opportunities

Brian Warkoczeski 2009 News, News

Since 1962, Saginaw Intermediate School District (ISD) has been a vital resource to residents in Saginaw County. Saginaw ISD is the seventh largest regional educational agency in Michigan and provides educational services, resources and technology to area school districts.

To offer more educational opportunities to its students and school districts, Saginaw ISD is using partnerships with nearby ISDs and Saginaw-area organizations.

One such cooperative effort is the Multi-District Consortium, a collaborative organization that pools resources from intermediate school districts to provide students and school districts with more academic offerings and tools.

The Multi-District Consortium, which includes Genesee ISD, Lapeer County ISD, Midland County ESA, Saginaw ISD, Shiawassee RESD, and St. Clair RESA, enables the participating members to provide interactive television courses, special online programs, virtual field trips, and more to its school districts.

All ISDs in the consortium are Merit Network Members and can use their network connections to stream videos-on-demand and send network traffic between each other, which is considered “on-net” traffic, at a reduced cost. Consortium members can also access Internet2 to participate in interactive videoconference and virtual field trips.

The consortium enables rural school districts to offer specialized courses, such as American sign language, Chinese, and French. Districts can also take advantage of nature center programs, such as the Farm Learning Center and Harley Outdoor Education Center.

Through professional development programs, like the Algebra Teacher Academy, the consortium works to provide teachers with more resources and learning opportunities.

TRUE Initiative

A collaboration that Saginaw ISD uses to benefit Saginaw County’s young learners is the TRUE Initiative, which is a partnership between Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Saginaw Head Start, Saginaw ISD, Saginaw Valley State University, Creating Character—a local, for-teachers-by-teachers curriculum developer—and several Saginaw-area human services organizations.

The TRUE acronym stands for Teach, Reinforce, Understand and Engage. Educators launched the program during the 2006-07 school year with a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Partnerships in Character Education Project.

The goal of the initiative is to teach young students to be good citizens and build character. Through literacy and cognitive development activities, the TRUE Initiative teaches preschool, kindergarten and first grade students lessons and traits that will benefit them in school and life.

The primary teaching tool in the classroom for the program is the Peddlesfoots book series, which was created by Saginaw teachers Matthew Hill and Lisa Workman. The books revolve around a family of rabbits, called the Peddlesfoots, who through their many challenges learn to make wise moral decisions in the face of many pressures.

Each year the TRUE Initiative has focused on a different class level, providing participating teachers with training and classroom kits. The 2007-08 school year focused on kindergarten classes, shifted to first grade classes in 2008-09, and will move to preschool classes in 2009-10.

To support the TRUE Initiative, Saginaw ISD hosted “Cultures of Thinking” workshops, which were led by Dr. Ron Ritchhart of Harvard University. The workshops focused on ways teachers could use thinking routines and improve their students’ understanding of classroom lessons.

When the four-year program is completed, evaluations and information gathered from the project will be sent to the federal government.

Saginet

A technology effort that Saginaw ISD is using to deliver distance learning programs and help school districts share resources is the Saginet Telecommunications Network, a consortium that connects 13 school districts in Saginaw County to each other via a fiber optic network. Saginaw ISD and Saginet provides the participating schools with access to the Internet and Internet2 through a high-speed connection to Merit Network’s backbone.

Most high schools that are part of the Saginet consortium have installed state-of-the-art distance learning rooms that contain videoconferencing equipment, a computer, IP phone system, DVD/VCR player, and more. By using Saginet, schools in the district can provide distance learning courses and innovative programs that connect students around the county, such as a virtual spelling bee and a high school cultural exchange. Students can also participate in virtual field trips to far off locations, such as the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

A popular videoconference program with schools in Saginaw County is MysteryQuest, which fifth and sixth grade classes use to test their geography knowledge. Students at schools across the county participate in the game in real time, with one team providing clues to teams at the other schools. Students use props and a poster board to give clues about the geography, culture, political, and economy of a specific location somewhere around the world. The goal of the geography game is to stump your competitors, although no score is kept.

Saginet also opens the doors to collaboration with schools outside of Saginaw County and Michigan. Saginet’s Collaboration Page lists educational opportunities via videoconference that Saginaw County teachers can use to supplement their classroom work on a variety of subjects, such as the Louisiana Purchase, Italian Language and Culture, and much more.

Through partnerships like Saginet, the True Initiative, and the Multi-District Consortium, Saginaw ISD is giving students in Saginaw County more opportunities and tools to be successful in the classroom and in life.

More About Saginaw ISD

Saginaw Intermediate School District is a regional school district created in 1962 by the Michigan Legislature. Saginaw ISD includes Hartley Outdoor Education Center, Millet Learning Center, REMC 3 & 9, SISD Head Start, SISD SVR4C, and the Transitions Center. Saginaw ISD has been a Member of Merit Network since 1995.