LOS LUNAS — Recognizing technology as a powerful tool for student education, Los Lunas Schools recently implemented some new, cutting-edge gadgets across the district to enhance educational outcomes.  

“We’re preparing students for a world that we don’t even know exists yet, so exposing them to new technology will better prepare them,” said Jessica Montano, Los Lunas Schools interim chief academic officer. 

Last fall, virtual reality headsets were introduced to Los Lunas Middle School and Valencia Middle School that allow students to virtually explore a variety of technical and skilled trades in a way that’s engaging and fun.  

The VR simulators envelop students in a 360 virtual environment where they carry out common tasks in professions such as welding, healthcare, heavy equipment operation and more. The program offers students dozens of modules to choose from in a variety of settings ranging from assisting with knee surgery in an operating room, to conducting repairs at the top of tall electrical towers.  

So far, one teacher at each middle school has seven VR headsets in their classroom dedicated to this so students can access through their career exploration or study skills classes. Montano said the majority of middle-schoolers are taking one of those classes, so many of them have the opportunity to utilize the headsets. 

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photo
Zeeanna Aragon, a seventh-grader at Valencia Middle School, utilizes VR technology dedicated to career exploration during her study skills class.

The VR headsets and an annual subscription to the accompanying software were purchased through federal title four funds the district put toward elective programs. LLS chief finance officer Sandra Traczyk said the headsets came with the subscription service that costs the district $30,000 a year which is covered through a CTE grant.  

Montano said they wanted to offer this to middle-schoolers specifically because that’s when they start to put more emphasis on career exploration. 

“If you don’t know these things are out there, then you’re not going to pursue them,” said Montano. “So it’s really just trying to provide opportunities for kids to find what their passion is.”  

VMS seventh-grader Zeeanna Aragon, who uses the VR career exploration headsets regularly in her school’s study skills class, said she feels it is a good addition to the classroom.  

“It pushes me to try new things and not think about one career but think about multiple,” she said. “It’s different to be in a career versus just talking about it, so I think it’s helpful because you can do a lot more with digital than you can do with paper.” 

Montano said elementary students also have access to some VR experiences through their school’s innovation lab that they primarily use right now for social studies and science.  

“It allows a student to become immersed in an environment we can’t physically provide for them,” said Montano. “We can’t physically take our kids to the pyramids, so it really offers them those experiences and opens up the world to them.” 

Montano said they also have VR programs for welding at all three high schools in the district. Additionally, there is a biology curriculum they’re exploring at the high school level that utilizes VR headsets for a more engaging experience.  

“For example, you could be inside a cell and pick up pieces of it,” said Montano.  

The district also recently purchased three Caterpillar heavy equipment simulators to establish one at each high school funded through three awards from the state Public School Outlay Fund totaling $484,704.  

The machines, estimated to arrive toward the end of the spring semester, simulate a bulldozer, a backhoe loader and an excavator.  

“Those three span across several different trades, so it gives the most leverage for our students,” said Montano.  

Students who complete training on the simulators also have the opportunity to leave with an industry-recognized certificate from Caterpillar, which Montano is excited about.  

“We plan to (put the simulators) in a lab environment at each high school so any student, regardless of what class they are registered in, would have an opportunity to experience it and gain those certificates,” she said.  

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photo
A student tries out a CAT simulator housed in the Be Pro, Be Proud mobile which made a stop at LLHS in Nov. 2023.

LLS also introduced Timekettle translator earbuds to the district during the beginning of the 2023-24 semester. These devices, while small, provide big benefits to students, teachers and staff alike.  

“I believe they are a great resource for our school district,” said Susan Chavez, LLS chief student services officer. “We’ve had a number of students who are monolingual speakers come to our district this year, and it’s really supported them with understanding what’s being delivered in the classroom lectures in their native language.” 

The Timekettle earbuds were included in a roughly $1 million purchase made during the beginning of the fall 2023 semester dedicated to universal design for learning to create more inclusive classrooms for all learners. Other items included in the purchase through federal funds were weighted vests and stuffed animals, adaptive pencils and scissors, noise canceling headphones and fidgets.  

The earbuds support two-way translation of 40 languages both through audio and text. The audio portion is delivered through the earbuds while the text is displayed through a device, such as a smartphone or tablet, that supports the accompanying app.  

The earbuds are available at all school sites and can be checked out through the school’s sensory room or supply room.  

Chavez said the earbuds have also aided staff whose native language is not English and they are used regularly in bilingual classrooms.   

“Parents sometimes use (the earbuds) too during parent teacher conferences or when they visit the school, so we’re able to communicate with our families,” Chavez said.  

LLS personnel also recently announced they will be replacing aging smart boards and projectors in classrooms district-wide with new, 86-inch interactive flat panels. 

LLS personnel test out the new interactive flat panels the district recently acquired to replace aging smart boards in all classrooms. Photo courtesy of Los Lunas Schools.

“This is state-of-the-art technology,” said Chavez. “With the smart boards, you had to have a projector which projected on the board. The interactive flat panels no longer require the projector; it’s a stand alone device that’s directly connected to our internet.” 

The new IFPs are equipped with advanced interactive technologies which allow for many uses. They can be used as a traditional board to write on, they can play videos and show images on the internet and display student work among several other features.  

“There’s so many more features that are engaging to students that these flat panels offer that our smart boards did not,” said Chavez.  

The large size and high-resolution picture quality also allows for better viewing, she said, as you can zoom in “so students who may have trouble seeing the board no longer have that difficulty.” 

Since the panels are mounted on mobile carts, they can also be moved around the classroom which the previous smart boards could not do.  

Chavez said the IFPs are in the process of being moved into every classroom and therapy room in the district, a process which will continue throughout the spring semester. They will span every grade level from pre-k through 12th grade.  

According to a press release, the 680 IFPs were purchased by the district for $2.1 million using ESSER III funds, which were provided to school districts across the United States to support schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What’s your Reaction?

Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.