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Community Involvement & Support: It's More Than Just NetDay

It's relatively easy to have the biggest and best computer in your own home. After all, all you have to do is spend money to replace one unit. The problem with replacing older models in a school district rests with the need to multiply that one unit's price by hundreds. When you consider that all the purchases made today will be archaic in just a few years (months even), the costs are overwhelming once you do the math. If you could say (with a straight face) that purchases made today would suffice for many years, then you might be able to convince the community to dig into their pockets for this one-time expenditure. But unfortunately, this is not the case.

The Only Way

The only way to have the funds needed to support a yearly upgrade plan is to involve the community in school technology activities. They must see (not just hear) how the school really needs all those "new-fangled" computers and peripherals, and must also lay an infrastructure to make it all work.

This can be accomplished through the use of school-sponsored events, clubs, and committees comprised of teachers, students, administrators and community residents. Schools can no longer isolate themselves, but must inform the community every step of the way. Technology plans should be published, five-year plans shared, training goals detailed in district and school newsletters -- and residents must be brought into the schools to try it all.

The Ad Hoc Study Group for Technology

Here at the Holmdel Township School District, we began our community-involvement activities by creating an Ad Hoc Study Group for Technology. Community members, teachers, administrators and students meet harmoniously (usually) to provide guidance for planning for future technology. We meet about once a month to suggest policies, survey student and community computer knowledge, develop activities to involve the residents, and learn what other school districts are doing with their technology. This committee d'es not make decisions, but makes recommendations to the Board of Education with the prime directive to find ways to maintain a robust technology program for all students.

NetDay and Techfest: How We Did It

The most noteworthy endeavor attempted by the Ad Hoc Study Group was a combined NetDay and Techfest. The NetDay aspect of the event was to wire a computer lab for Internet access. This segment of the day was immensely successful with about 15 people actively involved in crawling, connecting and splicing. But, if wiring was all that we accomplished on that day, 15 residents would have had fun, but most of the community would still be uninformed.

So instead of just wiring a room in preparation for all those expensive electronics and ISDN lines, we added a new twist to the day by showing our community the wonders of technology by throwing a big party. The party was our Techfest, which grew into an "extravaganza" before we were finished.

We arranged for 28 vendors to display their wares and demonstrate their software in the commons area of our high school. This drew in the curious as well as those with computer savvy.

To bring out neophytes, we arranged for demonstrations to take place at half-hour intervals in 10 classrooms. These 40 demonstrations included middle school students displaying how to access weather information from the Internet, parents exhibiting how to manage stock portfolios, teachers presenting what is done with computers and probes in physics and mathematics, and fourth graders showing off their computerized seismograph.

There were hands-on rooms where visitors could prepare their own multimedia projects or spend time playing games. For those who needed periodic rests from all the activities, we had two rooms that continuously showed videos concerning the history of the computer industry and how to work with various software packages.

To make sure all the demo rooms were full, the videos were watched and the vendors were visited, we had prizes. Appealing to the "I never win anything" concept, free prizes were offered to everyone who had a registration card that was punched at a minimum of four different locations. We obtained over 500 prizes from many computer-related companies, and it was gratifying that so many organizations cared enough about school technology to contribute to the success of our event.

The 400 town members who came to visit the school on the day of NetDay/Techfest were thrilled by it all and were elated to receive free prizes. The trick to getting people to give up a Saturday and participate was to advertise, send notes home with the students, make local television appearances and have volunteers make phone calls. Although it was an enormous amount of work, it was wholly worthwhile. By the time the day was over, we felt rewarded by the compliments and accolades given by so many visitors.

Community User Group - HOTMUG

Although the one-day NetDay/Techfest event was an overwhelming success, we knew that more was needed on a regular basis. To make our technology more visible, we organized a community computer club called HOTMUG (Hands-on Technology Macintosh Users Group), which meets once a month.

This group, comprised of 75 town residents, focuses on increasing each member's computer comfort level. We use a hands-on approach in surfing the Internet, using CD-ROMS, creating newsletters and business cards, keeping personal records, developing multimedia presentations and more. Questions on personal computing problems or information about computer purchases are answered or directed to appropriate sources.
 

Residents must be convinced that students will use the technology purposefully and often.

The atmosphere is one of a relaxed cafe with cookies, coffee, fruit and soft drinks served. Volunteers from the Ad Hoc Study Group for Technology and from our student Tech Squad help with organization and operation. Meetings end with a prize drawing, either based upon luck or the correct solution to a computer-related question. It is wonderful to hear unsolicited applause at each meeting's end. Financial support comes from both a grant and district funds. The Board of Education is firmly behind this activity, with board members participating as well.

Staff Training - TEACHMUG

The community must have confidence that the equipment purchased with tax dollars will be thoroughly utilized. To this end, teaching staff must receive continuous and relevant training.

Our workshops take place both during school and after it. During the school day, there is training during departmental, house and faculty meetings. We have also held half-day and full-day workshops that require class coverage by another teacher. After-hours, inservice courses, which range from very basic computer operation to techniques to infuse technology into the curriculum, are very well attended.

Staff has shown great interest in moving forward to create classrooms that clearly support technologies of the 90's. Indeed, some members applied what they had learned by preparing multimedia presentations that were used at Back to School night; they both intrigued the parents and helped to show them how technology is tied into the curriculum.

The district has developed technology-oriented Action Plans at all levels, which have motivated staff even further. At the elementary level, for example, the Action Plan to have students employ computers to produce their science lab reports has been very successful. At the middle school level, all sixth graders are now expected to use computer-generated spreadsheets, databases and graphs in their required science research papers. The high school plan is responsible for intensive student and teacher training that will prepare all ninth graders to produce multimedia social studies projects and presentations by the end of the school year.

To further assist the staff, but in a less structured environment, we initiated another users group called TEACHMUG (Teachers Macintosh Users Group). This group also meets once a month. In TEACHMUG, teachers from Holmdel and a variety of other school districts expand their computer knowledge by learning how to use digital cameras, scanners, educational and productivity software; apply multimedia to lessons; develop class newspapers; and see presentations by software and hardware vendors.

Distributed before each month's meeting is a newsletter that contains software evaluations written by members, teaching tips, locations of instruction-related Internet sites and interesting technology articles. In addition, new, interesting and instructional shareware software is compiled into a "disk of the month" and distributed at each meeting.

The camaraderie found in TEACHMUG has removed the fear of asking questions and seeking help to understand the available technology and to find ways of infusing and weaving it into the curriculum.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that the community ultimately decides if money for technology will be available for schools via the budget and referendums. The formula for maintaining a close-to-cutting-edge technology program is:

  • + Community residents
    + Public relations activities & info
    + Community participation
    = $$$ for technology

The residents must be convinced that dust will not gather on the equipment, that teachers will infuse the technology into the curriculum, and that students will use the technology purposefully and often. They must see that even the older units have a place in the school if they can be used to meet curriculum goals. Schools must work hand in hand with the community so that fiscally prudent purchasing decisions are supported by all.

Sharyn Evans is currently the co-chair of the Ad Hoc Study Team for Technology and president of HOTMUG and TEACHMUG in Holmdel Township Schools. E-mail: saevans@monmouth.com

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.

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