Schools rush to high-tech security in wake of fatal shootings

No technology yet developed could have prevented the shooting catastrophes that rocked Edinboro, Pa., on April 24 and stunned Jonesboro, Ark., exactly one month earlier. But in the aftermath of both deadly tragedies, school leaders in communities across the nation and lawmakers in Congress and elsewhere deepened their resolve to use all available resources to make schools safer.

The U.S. Senate on March 26 unanimously approved a Safe Schools Security Act drafted by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., which would give schools $10 million per year for security technology and consulting.

Funds would be used primarily to subcontract with Sandia Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy facility near Albuquerque, N.M. Sandia was a nuclear weapons security facility during the Cold War. Since then, it has turned its attention toward education, most notably with its celebrated report debunking some of the research casting U.S. public schools in the harshest light.

Under Bingaman’s bill, Sandia now would provide schools with technologies such as electronic ID cards and tamper-resistant video cameras.

School security was a prime topic in state legislatures, too. Most notably, the Tennessee House of Representatives unanimously approved its own Safe Schools Act of 1998. That act would provide $10 million to help equip Tennessee schools with metal detectors and other security devices.

Although the quick approval of these bills was due in large part to the Arkansas shootings, lawmakers insist that such measures are long overdue.

“There are almost two million incidents of violent crime on or near school campuses every year,” Bingaman said in a statement. “The reality is that one in five high school students say they are worried about becoming victims of a crime at school.”

Bingaman’s bill would give schools technology that has already been tested in a $72,000 pilot program at Belen High School in New Mexico. About six months after the installation of video cameras, ID cards, and motion detectors in the fall of 1996, Belen officials reported drops in vandalism, vehicle theft, truancy, and fights. Fighting had been almost a weekly occurrence before the crackdown.

‘Things are not like they were’

Belen’s example is what lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in Tennessee hope to replicate with their respective legislation. The main consideration of school officials after an event such as the Jonesboro shootings is how to keep guns and other weapons out of their schools.

Tennessee has its own history of school violence. In 1995 a 16-year old Lynnville youth opened fire with a rifle in his school’s hallway, killing a teacher and another student. A second teacher was shot in the head but recovered. The boy, currently serving a life sentence, told detectives he was upset about failing grades and problems getting his license to drive.

Jere Hargrove, the Tennessee congressman who introduced his state’s Safe Schools Act, said last year alone 405 Tennessee students were expelled from school for bringing weapons to schoolÐalmost a quarter of them for guns.

“The deaths in Jonesboro, Paducah [Ky.], and Lynnville tell us things are not like they were when we were in school, and not like they were even five years ago,” Hargrove said. He cited metal detectors as one of several ways Tennessee schools might use the money his bill would provide to beef up their security.

Tennessee’s measure would set up matching grants local school districts could apply for on a voluntary basis. For every $25 a local school system raised, the state would provide $75.

In the U.S. Congress, Bingaman’s Safe Schools Security Act, which now goes to the House for debate, would establish a School Security Technology Center at Sandia Laboratories. School security experts at the center would examine the needs of individual schools and design affordable custom security packages for them.

The bill would also create a $10 million grant program to help schools pay for Sandia’s technology measures and expertise. Grants would be awarded to schools annually on a competitive basis. Should the legislation pass, the program’s eligibility and application procedure would be determined at a later date.

John German, a spokesman for Sandia Laboratories, cited other examples of partnerships already under way with schools. At Double Eagle Elementary School in New Mexico, for instance, Sandia helped install a hand scanner to verify the identity of parents who come to pick up their children. The device scans the geometry of a person’s hand and matches it with a print on file created when parents register their children for the school year.

German acknowledged that schools need to address issues of privacy when considering security measures. “That’s why we consult with everyone involved when we work with a school to develop an effective security planÐadministrators, students, PTA, even local law enforcement agents,” he said.

Schools under siege

Before you write out a check for any metal detectors there are several points to consider, said Virginia-based security consultant Alan Matchett.

“Metal detectors are just the tip of the iceberg for security,” said Matchett. For example, if you install walk-through metal detectors, then all entrances into the school must be restricted so that weapons cannot be brought in through other doors or windows. That means other doors must become emergency exits, Matchett said, and all doors but the one monitored and all windows with outside access must be kept locked or must be wired to sound an alarm if they are opened.

The situation can become thorny if students must enter and exit the building frequently. “If students exit the building anytime during the day, they must pass through the metal detector again when they come back in,” Matchett said. “Therefore, detectors must also be set up for physical education classes if they go outside.”

The biggest issue to consider, however, is the reaction of parents, teachers, and students. If the community doesn’t support the technology, Matchett warned, “the school can become a very tense and volatile place for all.”

Ron Marquez, principal at Belen High School, agreed with Matchett. “What may work for one school may not work for another,” he said.

Marquez’ school installed its security measures with Sandia guidance. Better known for designing security systems to protect the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons, Sandia consulted with Belen officials in 1996 to come up with a security plan as part of a pilot program to address school security.

The measures seem to be working. Marquez said thefts amounting to as much as $60,000 each year were reduced to $5,000 after the first year of the program.

In addition to the anti-theft devices, Belen introduced electronic ID cards to ensure that only authorized individuals could enter school grounds.

Belen opted for ID cards rather than metal detectors, said Marquez, because “we didn’t want our students to feel like they were in prison.”

Sandia National Laboratories

Senator Jeff Bingaman

Tennessee General Assembly


Gore floats alternative to McCain filtering bill

Vice President Al Gore wants Congress to make schools and libraries protect children from objectionable online content and use federal eRate funds to do so. But he stopped short of prescribing how schools should screen out inappropriate content and whether or not technology should be used.

“We must protect our children from the red-light districts of cyberspace,” Gore said. “That is why the President and I are encouraging Congress to pass legislation that would require every school and library using the eRate to develop a plan to protect their schoolchildren from inappropriate content.”

Gore, who many see as crafting his bid for the presidency, called for a measure that would “protect. . . children from inappropriate material while also protecting the First Amendment values we all hold dear.” He addressed his comments to the National Parent Teacher Association conference on March 24 in Washington, D.C., and later issued a more detailed statement.

Gore’s proposal sounds like the Internet Filtering Act introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The bill, which currently is under consideration in the Senate, would force schools and libraries to install filtering and blocking software on computers if they want to receive federal subsidies through eRate, part of the Universal Service Fund.

But Gore does not support the McCain bill, his office told eSchool News. The Clinton administration believes decisions about how to protect children from online indecency should be left to local schools and communities, Gore’s office said.

Supporters of the McCain bill say a federal mandate is necessary to protect the increasing numbers of children who will have access to the internet because of eRate funding. Those against internet filtering hold that decisions about safety and child protection should be made on a local level. They further argue that forcing schools to use filtering software violates First Amendment rights. Gore’s stance would appear to appeal to both camps, observers are saying.

‘Gentleman’s agreement’

Although he didn’t mention the bill or the proposed amendment, many saw the Gore position as endorsing a rewording of the controversial Internet Filtering Act.

If passed, the bill would require schools to define “inappropriate” and then use filtering or blocking technology to shield children from online content. Libraries, too, would be required to have at least one computer running with blocking programs. The bill was voted out of the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain heads, on March 12.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., sought to introduce an amendment to the McCain bill that would give schools more options for deciding how they would protect their students online, said Matt Raymond, a spokesman for Burns. The amendment was to be considered along with the main bill in the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on March 12.

But the amendment never was introduced. Instead, said Raymond, McCain made a “gentleman’s agreement” with Burns and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., that the three of them would informally agree on the language of the bill before it went before the full Senate for consideration.

Burns’ concerns were that the McCain bill imposed rigid restrictions on decisions that should be made at a local level, Raymond said, and overvalued the impact of filtering software.

Gore’s proposal is even vaguer, asking that schools merely agree to develop a plan to protect children on the internet. A check box on the eRate application form 470 would confirm that applicants had a plan in place, Gore office said.

“Our plan allows schools to make decisions based on local values,” said the Gore staff member.

Allowing schools to regulate internet access at a local level is what the National Education Association has been advocating, said Deputy Director John Bernstein, who applauded Gore’s statement.

David Sobel, a legal consultant for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), also praised the vice president’s stance. EPIC heads up a consortium called the Internet Free Expression Alliance.

“When a school board certifies that they’ve thought about this issue and have established a policy, it’s going to reflect real dialogue with their communities,” said Sobel. “That’s the way it should be. There should not be a dictate from Washington about what the appropriate road should be.”

Also at issue is how schools should protect their students online. McCain’s office says that the Internet Filtering Act is “technology-based” but not “technology-specific.” If the bill passes, schools and libraries “can choose whatever software and hardware they wish,” said spokeswoman Pia Pialorsi, “but they have to have a technology-based system in place.”

Gore didn’t specify that schools should use technology in their plans, but he did say this: “We must bring the combined power of parents, teachers, and technology together if we are going to protect our students in a way that will work in every community and reflect the values of each community.”

A contender

The latest statement is yet another about-face in the Clinton administration’s stance on internet protection laws.

Only last July, Gore was touting filtering software in the wake of the Communications Decency Act, a law regulating the internet that was struck down by the Supreme Court. At the time, Gore vowed to “make these blocking technologies and the accompanying rating systems as common as the computers themselves.”

Since then, a cadre of civil liberties and education groups have come forward to protest government mandating of filtering software. These groups are concerned about taking away schools’ ability to self-regulate.

Many see schools and the internet becoming one of the issues to emerge in the forefront as Gore prepares to hit the presidential campaign trail.

National Parent Teacher Association

The White House

Senator John McCain

Senator Conrad Burns

Senator John Breaux

Electronic Privacy Information Center

American Association of School Administrators


You’ve got mail! And cheaper access to the internet

America Online (AOL) will offer its lowest pricing plan ever to educators through its new “AOL At School” program. Beginning some time this summer, a company spokeswoman told eSchool News, educators can have access seven days a week for a flat $9.95 a month.

That’s less than half of America Online’s $21.95 flat rate unlimited access fee for the full-featured account: As with the standard membership, educators get five user names (or “sub-accounts), space on AOL’s server for web page hosting, eMail and internet access, and use of parental controls.

The catch? You can use the service only during “school hours”Ð6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Any K-12 teacher or school administrator is eligible for the special pricing, which is designed to work with the federal eRate funding program to get schools connected to the internet. AOL says it has been pre-approved as a qualified vendor by the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC), the body that administers the eRate program.

“It’s a bit of an experiment for us,” said Katherine Borsecnik, AOL’s vice president of network programming. “It’ll be interesting to see how many schools will take advantage of this.” The company isn’t yet saying how much they expect to make from the offer. But with 11 million members, Borsecnik said, the company doesn’t anticipate a change in its core customer base.

‘I can do this’

Bonnie Bracey, classroom teacher and director of education networks for The McGuffey Project, thinks the new price point will attract teachers. She first used AOL when the National Education Association helped give individual educators deals on using the service. She says of AOL: “Love it.”

“The ease of installation, the lack of intricate set-up, and the user friendly interface make even the most technophobic teacher feel, ‘I can do this,'” Bracey said. “And they do.”

In fact, ease of use is a primary reason the service is popular with teachers, she said. “I have other accounts, [but] AOL is specially designed for educators. Getting connected to the Super Information highway should not be a chore.”

“People forget that most teachers spend a lot of money for technology out of pocket if they are in a situation where the school has not been able to provide for them,” Bracey said. “Who would turn down such a great price? Not smart educators I know.”

Kate Delhagen, senior analyst for Forrester Research, agreed that AOL will be an attractive service for teachers. The service gives users access to such educational content as reference materials, newspapers, and kid-oriented features such as the buddy list.

Schools also will benefit from the company’s history of making the internet a safe experience for children, said Delhagen “It’s relatively safe, as compared to unfettered internet access,” she added, pointing to the service’s “easy-to-use” parental control features.

“AOL At School” will be tailored to the needs of teachers, Borsecnik said. The welcome screen for new school members will show a navigational window that points to areas AOL thinks will be of interest to the school marketplace, including “Research & Learn” and “Safety Tips Online.”

Users will receive AOL’s 24-hour customer support serviceÐa particular boon for schools, said Borsecnik. She said AOL is putting new emphasis on support, training 5,000 customer service representatives to deal with a wide variety of experience levels.

Support is important, because content providers such as AOL attract users who are new to technology. Customer service reps must be able to help them install software, upgrade to new versions, even use a mouseÐskills most internet surfers take for granted.

In schools, Borsecnik said, troubleshooting can be especially difficult. Systems and hardware are shared and levels of experience run the full gamut. The teacher setting up the online account, for example, might not even have the printed materials that accompany the software. Borsecnik said that AOL’s representatives are sensitive to the range of knowledge and experience its users might (or might not) have.

Bracey points out that teachers receive the least technology support of any computer-using professional. Oftentimes teachers don’t even have phones in their rooms. AOL, Bracey said, reduces a teacher’s need for training and support.

Although AOL is popular with teachers, most commercial content providers are impractical for schools trying to serve hundreds or thousands of students. It doesn’t, for example, license accounts to multiple users. An account allows for five user names, but only one of those users can be online at any one time. This doesn’t work for a classroom of students who are all working online.

“It’s hard to anticipate how schools might use it,” said Borsecnik. Schools will probably buy accounts for students to share in a lab, library, or classroom, Borsecnik said, with additional, private accounts for administrators, library staff, and technology coordinators.

Competition in the marketplace

The price cut might seem like a strange move for a company that just bucked industry standards by raising its flat access rate two dollars, to $21.95. But Delhagen said the strategy makes good business sense for AOL.

“[AOL has] a lot of unused capacity during the daytime,” Delhagen said. “It’s sort of ‘found’ money.” The strategy also will introduce teachers and studentsÐfuture consumersÐto the service and, AOL hopes, hook them in. “It’s a great lead-in to sell a consumer account for $21.95 at night,” Delhagen said.

More competitors will follow suit as eRate and other funds build up the necessary infrastructure to make marketing to a school audience worthwhile to internet service providers, said Delhagen. “It’s the classic ‘chicken-and-the-egg’ phenomenon.” With more and more classrooms being wired for the internet, said Delhagen, “AOL has said, ‘Hm, it’s time,’ and I suspect others will follow.”

At press time, however, none of the other commercial providers contacted was offering special pricing for K-12.

Many internet service providersÐincluding MCI, IBM, and AT&T WorldnetÐoffer special discounts to college students and universities but not to K-12 schools, according to representatives of those companies. MCI’s Diane Strahan, executive director of the MCI foundation and community relations, said the company focuses its K-12 efforts on non-commercial initiatives.

America Online

Forrester Research


IBM Internet Services

Sprint Internet Services

AT&T Worldnet


Portable price breaks: You can take it with you

Remember when portable computers were only for slick-casual Silicon Valley types who couldn’t finish a Nicoise-salad-and-seltzer lunch without checking their eMail? No more. Technological advances and increased competition have combined to make these portables much more affordable.

Portable devices are now priced to make them real options for schools. The new “palmtop” computers fit into a briefcase, purse, or pocket, giving your professional staff powerful computing tools on the road. For students, the new “ruggedized” notebook computers that easily zip into a backpack might soon replace the old 2B pencil.

Prices on both are falling. Palmtop computers are getting more affordable because Microsoft has jumped into the game and upped pressure on 3Com to sell more of its popular “Palm” series machines. A handheld can be yours for under $1,000‹even under $500, if you’re not devoted to the Windows operating system (OS).

Palmtops are designed to give users an array of applications, mostly organizational tools, in one pocket-size, highly portable device. The tiny units have just enough “guts” to give you an address book, calculator, date book, to-do list, and memo pad in a machine about the size and weight of a deck of cards.

Microsoft enters Palm computing market

In March Microsoft unveiled a second version of its Windows CE operating system. This is the software that will operate the Palm PC computers that are almost ready for mass production and are targeted squarely at the popular 3Com PalmPilots. Days later, 3Com retaliated, trimming prices on its existing models and launching its newest version, the Palm III. 3Com also initiated and won legal action against Microsoft, charging that the name “Palm PC” infringes on its trademarked PalmPilot.

Why did Microsoft expend all that time and treasure? One reason might be to try to spike a potential rival of its Windows-brand operating systems. 3Com’s PalmPilot series does not run on Windows, although 3Com’s newest model is compatible with the Windows desktop and networking operating systems.

The sudden competition in the handheld market means new options for consumers, especially for teachers and administrators who must juggle loads of schedules, contacts, and assignments. Both the Palm III and the Palm PC use a pen-like stylus and handwriting recognition to dispense with the keyboard. Larger models, such as a new one just announced by Hitachi, keep the keyboard but still slip neatly into briefcase or purse.

Microsoft’s palmtop is likely to be popular with Windows users. The devices will run on a scaled-down version of Windows, called Windows CE 3.0. Standard Windows CE programs will include the Pocket Outlook program for managing contacts, calendars, tasks, and eMail; a voice recorder and note-taking application; and “mobile channels” so you can view web content offline.

Windows CE will also support “pocket” versions of Microsoft’s Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. The devices will be manufactured by Casio, Everex/FIC, Samsung, Palmax, LG Electronics, Uniden, and Philips Electronics.

Philips’ palmtop, the Nino 300, is expected to be released in mid-May, according to a company representative. For an estimated street price of $399.9, the Nino 300 includes a backlit monochrome screen, a 75 MHz processor, and a 19.2 Kbps modem in a 3.41-inch x 5.25-inch, 7.33-ounce shell. The 4 Mb unit will include the Nino dock, AC adapter, and a carrying case. For $499.99 you can get an 8 Mb unit with a rechargeable battery pack, Nino click-on modem, phone cable, dock, AC adapter, and a carrying case.

Palm III

3Com has recently made its 1000 and 5000 models more affordable. The Palm Personal sells for $199. For $299, you can get the Palm Professional. 3Com also introduced a new top-of-the-line series, the Palm III, that reportedly will be priced at $399 when it debuts at computer and home electronics stores in April.

One of the reasons palmtop computers are getting cheaper is due to some rethinking by manufacturers. Apple’s Newton, one of the first handheld computers, was notorious for its creative interpretations of your handwriting. Rather than pay for the sophisticated software to recognize your handwriting, industry reasoned, why not ask you to use handwriting the computer will recognize already? The Palm III runs on the idea that users can adapt their handwriting to use a simplified alphabet the computer already “knows.”

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development bought a dozen PalmPilots for its staff, said Melody Ridgeway, assistant executive director of information systems and services, and they “caught on like wildfire‹everyone wants one.”

In addition to improved handwriting recognition, the Palm III offers wireless capability for transfer of files and applications. It’s also compatible with Windows 95, Windows NT, and to a more limited extent, the Macintosh operating system. Company representatives say a software upgrade is expected this summer that will improve Palm III’s interoperability with Macs.

The biggest development is the machine’s networking capability. The new PalmPilot not only “hot synchs” (updates with your desktop computer), but it also can have data linked to files. During hot synching, the Palm III will check the files to see if they have been updated and, if so, update its own files.

The Palm III’s 2 Mb storage capacity doubles that of the previous PalmPilot Professional, with room for approximately 6,000 addresses, 3,000 appointments, 1,500 to-do items, 1,500 memos, and 200 eMail messages.

And, for slightly bigger palms . . .

You can get the Windows CE 3.0 operating system in the new Hitachi handheld models announced March 12.

The Hitachi models won’t fit in your palm‹unless you’ve got a really big palm. The HPW-20E8M is slightly bigger than a palmtop computer, weighing in at just one pound, with a 7.1″ diagonal monochrome screen and a 69-key keyboard.

The unit has an 80 MHz processor, 8 Mb of RAM, a 21.6 Kbps software modem, and a rechargeable battery. There’s also a built-in microphone, speaker, and a voice recorder. The model is priced at $599 and “will be available soon,” said company officials.

An even larger version, the HPW-200EC, will ship to computer stores in April. Hitachi is touting it as “the world’s first color unit with an oversized screen and near full-sized desktop keyboard.” This model weighs just under two pounds and comes with an 8.1-inch color screen and a nearly full-sized, 74-key keyboard. At $999 you’ll also get a 33.6 Kbps modem, 100 MHz of processing power, and 16 Mb of RAM (expandable to 48 Mb).

Another portable option for schools is Compaq’s PC Companion, a handheld model that weighs less than a pound and runs on the Windows CE platform. The PC Companion comes equipped with word processor, calculator, spreadsheet, internet browser, and email software.

Jake Schlumpf, Compaq’s director of education, likened the PC Companion to a shuttle craft that can dock with its mother ship‹the desktop PC‹either at home or at school. At $599 per unit, the PC Companion is an affordable communication and data mining tool that gives each student access to technology and the internet.

Notebooks & Laptops

Schlumpf said one important advantage of portable computers over desktops is they give students access to their work and information at any time and in any location. Also, Schlumpf said, students feel more of a sense of ownership when they use notebook computers‹so they tend to personalize the format of the machines. This pride of ownership often leads to more pride in their work.

The price drop for machines that run with larger screens‹notebook and laptop computers‹is mainly because liquid crystal display (LCD) screens are becoming less expensive to manufacture. LCD screens can account for one-third or more of a laptop’s total cost. Last month, Compaq Computer cut prices throughout its Armada notebook series. Price reductions included the Armada 7330T, a 150-MHz Pentium machine which dropped from $1,899 to $1,499, and the Armada 4131T, a 133-MHz unit which fell from $1,699 to just $999.

The technology of LCD screens has improved as well. The Compaq Armada models cited above all offer 12.1-inch active-matrix displays. Just last year, such screens were considered exotic and sold in the $3,000-$5,000 range, according to David Mently, vice president of display technology at Stanford Resources.

“Total solutions”

Compaq offers what it calls the “Notebook Network” solution, through which schools can choose from a variety of portable models. In addition to computers, the Notebook Network solution includes options like staff development training or backpacks for students to carry their computers. School districts can customize the program to fit their particular needs.

Compaq’s Presario 1220 ES, at $1,999, is a specially-designed 200-MHz model for schools. It comes equipped with CD-ROM, internal 56K modem, and a choice of LearningPaq educational software modules.

NetSchools Corp., a Calif.-based company, was founded last spring to provide mobile computing options to schools. The NetSchools solution includes one StudyPro portable computer for each student with infrared connection to the school’s network, laptops for each teacher, one printer per classroom, an internet server that allows schools to cache sites to protect students online, teacher training, and an academic information system (AIS) complete with integrated curriculum. (See Best Practices: Internet, page 26)

Toshiba and Microsoft have teamed up to offer a program called Notebooks for Schools. The program is in its second year in the U.S. and is expected to grow to about 500 schools and districts by the end of this year.

Schools who participate in the program receive Satellite Pro laptops bundled with Microsoft Office software, a carry bag, modem, ethernet card, and an orientation video for students. Caryl Collins, manager of Toshiba’s education programs, said that schools can choose from four different laptop options, which change each year to reflect current offerings.

Prices for the laptops range from $1,579 for a Satellite Pro 440 CDX with 133-MHz chip, 16 MB memory, and 33K modem to $2,149 for a Satellite Pro 315 CDS with 200-MHz chip, 32 MB memory, and 56K modem. Toshiba also offers schools the option of leasing the machines at $49 per month for each 440 CDX model and $65 per month for each 315 CDS.<

Custom-built machines

Todd Nelson, notebooks manager for Dell, described several features of Dell’s Latitude series, which come equipped with 12.1-inch active-matrix displays, 2.1-gigabyte hard drives, and start at $2299 for schools.

Gateway’s 2300 series notebooks start at $1899 for a 200-MHz machine with 16 MB of memory, a 12.1-inch dual-scan screen, and a 20X CD-ROM. You can choose from nearly 2,000 different configurations to put together the exact machines that fit your students’ needs. All of Gateway’s models come with anti-virus software pre-loaded.

Gateway offers several leasing plans, including buy-back and “refresh” options, as well as training options through the company’s country stores.

Meanwhile, Apple is continuing to sell its current inventory of eMates. By law, Apple is required to support the machines for seven years. Rugged and affordable, the eMate features a word processor, spreadsheet, drawing application, graphing calculator, calendar, address book, and internet enabler, and it can be networked to a PC. But is it worth investing in a soon-to-be-defunct technology?

Apple promises a new line of mobile computers for the education market by the end of next year. The new line will run on the proven Macintosh OS.

If you don’t want to wait until the new generation of mobile computers from Apple arrives next year, you can purchase from Apple’s remaining stock of eMates at $749 for a single unit, $549 per unit for packs of eight, and $449 per unit for packs of 100.

On the higher end of the market, Apple plans to introduce a notebook this spring powered by a high-performance 233-MHz G3 processor for $1,999. The new PowerBook G3/233 will come equipped with 12.1-inch dual-scan screen, 16 MB of memory, and a 20X CD-ROM and is expected to be available next month.

eSchool News Notebook Computer Roundup

eSchool News’ Handheld Computer Roundup:

3Com Palm III

Apple Computer

Compaq Computer

Dell Computer

Gateway 2000




Philips’ Nino 300



Infrastructure: Undergird your eRate plan

If there is one truth about the new universal access or “eRate”, it is that the landscape of information technology (technology and telecommunications) for schools and libraries in this country has dramatically and irrevocably changed. The impact of the eRate will be profound for many schools; others will take some time to catch up and get with the program. The full effect of this program is in the opportunity it presents for school systems to create a new set of rules for budgets, technology, and staffing models. To optimize the benefit of the eRate, schools now have to think differently about information technology infrastructure.

When you consider universal access, think infrastructure. “Infrastructure” is to school technology as “location” is to real estate. It is not the only thing; it is everything. School systems now need to think of information technology not as an add-on, but as a vital and strategic contribution to the success of the learning community.

Let’s look at some of the restructured thinking the eRate is going to demand of school leaders:

Financial infrastructure

Getting line items for technology in school system budgets has been a slow and arduous task for education leaders. In this era of constrained budgets, it is easy to find districts with little or no annual funding for technology. Much of the technology acquired is often “hidden” in construction bonds, gifts, grants, and other one-time moneys. The problem with these tactics, of course, is that one-time money allows no way to plan for lifecycle replenishment. Many schools are left supporting aging technology, often older than the students they serve. It also results in poor student-to-computer ratios, often a benchmark for the progressive use technology in a school system.

Schools now need to reconsider their budget infrastructure for technology and telecommunications. And that includes all mediaÐvoice, video, and data. Leaders need to consider the “hidden costs” of technology, and there are many. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but a school budget probably should contain line items for categories such as these: funding for software and hardware acquisitions, cabling, network connections, electronic closet devices, repair and service contracts, insurance, supplies and consumables, printers, and digital subscription based services. Telephony and video, including satellite downlink services, should be accounted for, too.

Leaders should be concerned with lifecycle budgeting. The lifecycle model is simple: Value your installed base and plan on replacing one-quarter to one-fifth of it each year. That might seem like a long stretch for school systems struggling to buy a few computers, but it is a necessary leap if schools are to successfully manage this next wave of technical opportunity

Technical infrastructure

Information technology infrastructure is about as glamorous as plumbing. But without it, all else fails. Connectivity is key, and making networks functional is imperative to success in this field of work. Campuswide networking, regardless of whether the campus is in a city or a rural county, should be the goal of planners. Why? Because it optimizes your resources, brings learning communities together, engages the public, and is a contemporary approach to disseminating information in a nation where internet access is becoming as common as telephones.

Schools need to think not only in terms of LAN’s (local area networks), but they also must consider MAN’s (metropolitan area networking) and WAN’s (wide area networking). Robust networks, offering wide connectivity to your local campus and the rest of the internet, are your foundation for growing the culture and the experience to embrace the next levels of information technology.

Once the networks are functional and reliable, the next step in your growth is to add value to the network. Integrating information technology into the classroom, the administration office, the local business advisory council, and so on, is possible with a solid infrastructure. Site licensing of software, applications and file servers, access to online digital resources, systemwide use of eMail, video conferencing for distance learning, internet and intranet web sites all rely on networking. It’s all about infrastructure.

Organizational infrastructure

As schools move towards modern information technology infrastructures, they must examine staffing models. Typically, technology staff members in school systems are teachers and administrators who’ve taken on tech support , tooÐvoluntarily or otherwise. Managing and growing information technology assets is a professional task. Certainly there is room to cultivate talent from within a system, but schools eventually will have to hire professional IT (information technology) staff. Many industries have gone through painful transitions with IT staff in the last decade, as emphasis has shifted from centralized to decentralized environments (from mainframe to desktop). Many schools will skip the mainframe step, but they still will have to compete with everyone else to find the talent to run a wide array of networked desktop technology. Qualified candidates are not easy to find. They often command top dollar.

How will school systems effectively compete for this talent? Just like everyone else: through a combination of training internal candidates and finding the budget to hire from outside. Talent is an undeniable part of the formula. Constructing the “wires and pliers” part of technology is comparatively easy. Finding the talent to “add value” to the infrastructure is key for a successful information technology environment.

From a staffing perspective, volunteers are a boon for deploying information technology in schools, but beware. It is impossible to build a strong information technology environment and culture with volunteers. Certain bursts of activityÐsuch as wiring a school on a NetDayÐhave paid off handsomely. But networks need constant attention. Who will do that work?

As infrastructures are planned and installed, schools would do better to use the “eRate” opportunity to partner with local service providers. Telephone companies, internet service providers, cable television companiesÐthey all are quickly coming to understand the business advantage of gaining schools as institutional customers.

Use that leverage to construct tight contractual relationships for service, support, and emergency response for your infrastructure.

Time to redesign IT

With the inception of the eRate, a carrot is being dangled before our nation’s school systems. Will we respond to the challenge of creating information-rich environments for our students, teachers and communities? The eRate is not just a way to discount internet access; it is a signal to the nation to redesign our approach to information technology in public education. Folks, it’s time to hit the reset button.


Stephen Andrade is manager of information technology at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in Providence, R.I. He has been active in the field of educational technology for 20 years. He works with schools and organizations to help them rethink their approach to information technology. You can send him eMail at


Prospecting for gold? Bring a modem, not a mule

One thing I really miss from my fund raising days is my prospect database. It was a ClarisWorks database that I made with my own two hands. It held the names and addresses of several hundred prospective funders who, I hoped, could one day be coerced into giving my organization money.

Now, some might have stopped the data collection madness with just that basic, necessary informationÐname, address, phone number. Not me. I faithfully entered the dates I made contact with the funder, who I’d sent proposals to, how much we asked for, what was granted, and any odd factsДsecretary likes cats”Ðthat might give me a jump on our competitors. It was a thing of beauty and joy. I spent weeks developing itÐeven consulting my co-workers on the screen color schema.

Finding and keeping track of your prospective donors is one of the most tedious, labor-intensive tasks of successful fund raising. But it’s crucial to do your research if you want to zero in on those most likely to fund your technology program.

We call the process prospect research. In prospect research you identify possible grant makers who are likely to give you money, and research each potential grant maker in-depth.

And guess what? You can use the internet to do that research.

Prospect Worksheet

The very first thing you want to do is know your project. You need to have a good understanding of what you want this money for before you can identify who might give it to you. Sketch out as many of the particulars as you can: how much you need, the goals and objectives of the project, and how long it will take. Then you can come up with a list of funding sources.

What are you looking for? Grant makers who have funded projects like yours in the past, who are giving the kind of money you’re looking for, and who give to people in your geographic area.

There are a lot of guidesÐboth print and electronicÐto help you narrow your search and find such “matches.” When I’m scouring a foundation directory for prospects, I keep a batch of prospect worksheets at my elbow to fill out when I spot a funder that could be a likely funding source.

On these worksheets I record the following information:

€ Name, address, telephone and fax numbers, and eMail address of contact person (usually the pro gram officer for education projects).

€ The mission of the funder and its funding areas.

€ Funding priorities (every funder has priorities, and you can usually find them in a grants directory or in the funder’s annual report).

€ Financial data: total assets, total grants paid, grant ranges/amount needed, period of funding/project (this will help you decide which funders are able to give the kind of money you’re looking for, when you need it).

€ Geographic limits (. . . if any. Fun ders often cite receiving applications from those living outside their geo graphic giving area as their number one aggravation: make sure you’re in an area where your prospective fun der gives).

€ Types of support (whether they give matching grants, in-kind donations, etc.).

€ Populations served.

€ Types of past recipients, their names and project titles (so you can call and ask if they wouldn’t mind sharing their proposal or project narrative with you).

€ Inside people to know (these might be officers, trustees, a receptionist, past recipient, etc.).

€ Application information (printed guidelines/application form, how to approach initially, deadlines, and board meeting dates).

€ The source of your information about the funder.

€ Space for notes, follow-up steps you want to take, etc.

You might want to prepare a prospect worksheet form to help you keep track of all this information. The Foundation Center has a great worksheet available on its web site that’s free to download or print out.

Identifying Prospects

The internet is fast becoming the prospect researcher’s best friend (after the program officer). If you don’t have direct internet access yourself, you absolutely should sneak down to the computer lab after school and check out all the resources available to you on the web.

One of your first stops should be The Foundation Center. In addition to providing hundreds of links to hundreds of private, corporate, and community foundation grant makers, you’ll also find a tutorial on the grant-seeking process, an introduction to proposal writing, and helpful links to nonprofit organizations.

A couple of sites on the internet give you lots of links to funders and information specifically about technology for schools. You definitely should bookmark these sites: NASA K12 Internet Initiative: Grant Info, The Annenberg/CPB’s SAMI (Science and Math Initiative) Mini-Grants Page, Pitsco’s Launch to Grants and Funding, Indiana Computer Educators (ICE), and the U.S. Department of Education’s Grants & Contracts Information.

You can also sign up for an eMail bulletin of new Department of Education initiatives and funding opportunities by sending an eMail addressed to with nothing in the body but subscribe EDInfo yourfirstname yourlastname. That is, “subscribe EDInfo Clint Eastwood”.

For other federal grants programs that might fund your technology program, you can wade through the Federal Register online at the URL below, or you can order the publication by calling (202) 512-1800.

The Foundation Center publishes several print guides that might be of use: the National Guide for Funding Information Technology, the National Guide to Funding for Elementary and Secondary Education, and field-specific Grant Guides. Visit the Foundation Center web site for more information.

A customer service representative at Capitol Publications suggested three titles for education technology fund raising: Grants for School Technology, The Grantseekers Handbook of Essential Internet Sites, and Arts Education and Outreach (which lists some technology programs). Capitol also publishes newsletters that will keep you on top of new programs and fund raising opportunities. “Education Daily” and “Education Grants Alert.” Call Capitol Publications, (800) 655-5597.

Other books that will help you locate funds for school technology:

€ The Distance Learning Funding Sourcebook, by Arlene Krebs (800) 228-0810 (update available summer 1998).

€ From Here to Technology: How to Fund Hardware, Software, and More, by Barbara Hunter and published by the American Association of School Administrators, Call (888) 782-2272.

€ OnLine: Financing Strategies for Ed ucation Technology, published by the National School Board Association. Call (800) 706-6722.

€ Educator’s Internet Funding Guide, from Classroom Connect, (800) 638- 1639.

€ Obtaining Resources for Technology in Education, by David Moursund of International Society for Technology in Education. (800) 336-5191.

Foundation prospecting

Use The Foundation Center or another directory to get the scoop on corporate, individual, and community foundations. Definitely visit the web site of any prospective donor. There may be grant application guidelines available to download or print out. You’ll also find helpful information such as the kinds of projects that the organization funded in the previous year, location of its headquarters, and the names of its board members and trustees. All information that you can use to tailor your proposal to the funder.

The Foundation Center’s Grantmaker Information directory contains detailed information on most foundations that maintain an internet presence. It “Corporate Grantsmaker on the Internet” section allows you to perform keyword searches for likely prospects.

You can also find links to foundations at The Council on Foundations, Fundsnet, and The Internet Prospector, where volunteers publish their prospect research regularly on the web site and in a monthly eMailed newsletter.

The Foundation Center offers print publications that can help you find out more about private, corporate, and community foundations. The Foundation Directory covers foundations with assets of $2 million or more, or with total annual giving of $200,000 or more. This is a real fund raiser’s bible; you’ll find all the info you’ll need in it. The Guide to U.S. Foundations, Their Trustees, Officers, and Donors includes basic information on all active grant-making foundations in the U.S. The National Directory of Corporate Giving gives details on over 1,950 corporate foundations and an additional 650+ direct giving programs. Visit the Foundation Center’s web site for more info.

Grants & Funding Center at

The Foundation Center

Council on Foundations

Philanthropy News Digest


The Internet Prospector

Federal Register

NASA K12 Internet Initiative: Grant Info

The Annenberg/CPB’s SAMI (Science and Math Initiative) Mini-Grants Page

Pitsco’s Launch to Grants and Funding

Indiana Computer Educators (ICE)

U.S. Department of Education: Grants & Contracts


Grant Awards

$100 million from California Department of Education

For the Digital High School Initiative program, $100 million to 216 California high schools. The program’s goal is to provide internet access in every high school classroom and a student-to-computer ratio of four to one by the year 2000. The 216 schools selected in the first year of the program will receive installation grants of $300 per student for wiring, hardware, curriculum resources, and teacher training.

(916) 323-5216

$10 million from Connecticut Board of Education

For the Educational Technology Infrastructure Grant program, which sup

ports wiring and networking projects to extend internet access in Connecticut’s public schools, $10 million to 56 Connecticut districts. Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford will each receive $1 million in funding.

(860) 566-5497

$6.5 million from Intel, Microsoft, and HiQ Computers

For the “Partners in Technology” program, which aims to wire all schools by Sept. 1998, $6.5 million in hardware and software to the Boston Public Schools.

$162,267 from Medtronic Foundation

For various science and technology projects, $162,267 to nine K-12 schools

and districts. Awards include $23,043 to Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, Minn., to implement an engineering program; $25,000 to Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood, Minn., for a computer-based experimental science project; $11,670 to Mesa Public Schools in Mesa, Ariz., for the Spacerunner Math and Science Laboratory; and $10,159 to St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood, Colo., for a science and technology program for girls.

(612) 574-3042

$1 million from Oxley Foundation

For the construction of a science and technology center, a $1 million matching challenge grant to Holland Hall School in Tulsa, Okla.

$300,600 from Tyco International Ltd.

To refurbish used computers donated by businesses, $300,600 over three years to New Hampshire public schools.

(603) 778-9700

$2 million from U.S. West Foundation

For the 1998 “Connecting Teachers with Technology” program, $2 million in cash and equipment to 85 teams of teachers. Each team received an award valued at $24,000 which included four state-of-the-art laptop computers, a cash grant, and technology training to assist them in integrating technology into their classrooms. For information about the next round of U.S. West Foundation grants, see the Opportunities section of this issue.

(800) 843-3383


eSN Special Report: Network Administration Novell VS. NT: Choosing your platform

Administering a school network means selecting a server operating system, and in the K-12 world two heavyweights are fighting it out to see who will dominate this growing market.

Novell has been the traditional leader. A study by CCA Consulting found that in the 1995-96 school year, showed Novell’s NetWare beating out AppleShare, Microsoft’s Windows NT Server, and UNIX.

Today the preference ratios have shifted: Novell’s NetWare has dropped to 54 percent, AppleShare to 30 percent, and UNIX has dwindled to 5 percent. Windows NT, on the other hand, has almost doubled its base Ð capturing nearly half (46 percent) of the K-12 market.


Novell’s penetration into the educational network administration market is declining, but it’s still pretty deep. NetWare proponents like its directory and replication services, application launcher, and caching and security features.

In the Phoenix (Ariz.) Elementary School District, network technician LaRhea Russell administers a 19-site Novell-based network with more than 30 wide area network (WAN) file servers and nearly 1000 stations.

“There’s only one of me,” Russell said. “In the Novell world, I can manage it. If I had to administer 19 sites with [Windows] NT, I’d never get it to work.”

Novell products work together to simplify network administration. Novell Directory Services (NDS) automates such network tasks as managing and controlling networkwide access to eMail and application software.

The Novell Application Launcher (NAL), a part of ManageWise lets an administrator load new applications for the entire network at one location instead of having to upgrade PCs individually. ManageWise also enables remote monitoring and troubleshooting across the network. Novell IntranetWare simplifies the administration of districtwide internet access. Novell’s BorderManager provides firewall security and speeds up classroom internet access with its FastCache feature.

Novell offers special pricing for schools. Licenses for 250 users for IntraNetWare, BorderManager, and GroupWise cost approximately $995 each. For more information about Novell and its networking products, see the Novell web site.

Windows NT

Ameritech network analyst Christopher Urban was a technology coordinator with the first educational network implementation in the North Chicago Community School District #187. His NOS of choice was Ð and still is Ð Microsoft Windows NT Server. Urban likes that NT works with other Microsoft applications to provide what he calls an “integrated solution.”

“Five years ago I took time out to look at the market and decided NT knew what they were doing,” Urban said. Novell lacks the integration with other Windows-based software offered by NT, and while the Macintosh platform AppleShare is “easy to use,” it’s not really suitable for districtwide use on a mutli-platform network running both Macs and PCs, Urban said.

Other advantages are attributable to NT’s tight integration with a whole range of Microsoft operating system and networking products:

Systems Management Server (SMS) lets users install software, track software licenses, and handle troubleshooting for all networked computers from a central location. Internet Information Server (IIS) allows users to create an account and enable both eMail and internet access at the same time. Proxy-server capability lets users control access to the internet.

Microsoft offers academic pricing for its networking products. Visit the web site or call your local reseller for more information.

new network protocol

School networks come in various guises. “Network” can refer to a instructional group using AppleShare or an administrative local area network (LAN) set up to access student information from a mainframe computer. District-wide networks (commonly called wide area networks, or WANs) can enable communications across geographic and functional boundaries and provide high-speed building access to the internet.

In any of these cases, the network is useful only when it ultimately contributes to student learning. “It’s not about what vendor we should we go with. It’s about ubiquitous access and giving kids whatever they need to become successful,” said network analyst Christopher Urban.

Schools Ð aided and abetted by the government Ð are spending vast amounts of money getting networked. But many are still wondering, “How does networking technology help students become successful?”

Streamlining learning

“The network facilitates the educational process,” said Robert Kenyan, director of technology network administrator of St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Fla. St. Andrew’s, an independent Episcopal school of 600 students from grades 6-12, runs a 300-device network. The structure consists of seven Compaq file servers, a Cisco router, a Windows NT web and eMail server, and about 150 workstations and printers.

The school has six computer labs: three for the high school and three for the middle school. Each lab has 20 Pentium computers, and a networked computer sits on each teacher’s desk.

The network is like a faster, easier electronic “mimic” of the normal structure of the nonelectronic world, Kenyan said. Like a “real-world” classroom, the network has public and private areas. Every student and teacher has a personal login account that provides access to individual directories, or reserved file storage areas. Just as teachers traditionally have the right to review a student’s notebook, teachers in networked classrooms have the right to access student files, where they can evaluate and comment on a student’s work.

In “public” areas, teachers who want to share information with other teachers may post in a special directory that cannot be accessed by students. In addition to their individual private directories, students also have a public area for posting items that are to be passed on to other students.

The network significantly affects the way teachers structure and execute curriculum, Kenyan said: “The instructional paradigm has shifted. When students can get on a listserv and start discussing a Shakespearean play with people across the country or across the world, you can no longer present educational content as something between the front cover and the back cover of the textbook.

“You can no longer slam the door and present yourself as the “sage on the stage,'” Kenyan said, repeating an oft-heard mantra in education reform. “You have to become the ‘guide on the side.'”

Appropriate use

Across the country schools are having debates about acceptable-use policies, spurred by the increase in networking. Networking means your students could potentially be exposed to the unregulated internet. The debate on Capitol Hill right now is about exactly this issue: What’s the best way to protect the vast numbers of schoolchildren who will have access to the internet through increased government funding?

There are two schools of thought. One, typified by Kenyan’s district, holds that students must learn responsibility in the new multimedia environment, a necessity that teachers can turn into learning opportunities.

“One of the most important things we can teach is responsibility,” Kenyan said. “Students know they shouldn’t bring a copy of Penthouse to class. Why should you have to tell them about accessing inappropriate web sites?”

St. Andrew’s relies on an “appropriate use” internet policy, which the students seem to take seriously. And it appears to be working. “For the most part, students appreciate the fast internet access that is available to them,” Kenyan said. “They don’t want to lose the privilege.”

Others see internet filtering and blocking software as the only surefire way to control what students are able to view on the web. Joe Meadors, district technology coordinator for the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township (Indiana) uses this approach.

“You wouldn’t present traditional printed or audiovisual material in your classroom that you had not read or previewed,” said Meadors. “Turning kids loose on the internet is like taking a field trip to the video store and saying, ‘Here, go in and look at what you want.’ We wouldn’t do that as teachers.”

At Pike, teachers have full internet access. Student access is determined on a building-by-building basis. Teachers in each building select only sites that are age- and curriculum level-appropriate for their students. “This has put our teachers in their comfort zone,” said Meadors,” and upped classroom use of the internet dramatically.”

Whether or not you choose to use filtering software, there are some sound guidelines that will help reduce irresponsible behavior in the classroom. Always have an adult in any room where students are accessing the internet, and pay attention to the layout of the networked classroom.

“Physical design is very important,” said Kenyan. St. Andrew’s configures every computer classroom so that a teacher in the center can view every monitor. “If you put a kid in a little cubbyhole by himself, you’re just asking for him to get himself into trouble,” said Kenyan.


Amp up your network administration

The relationship between schools and networking technology has undergone a circular evolution. “Computer network” entered the K-12 educational lexicon in the 1960s via timesharing computers oriented to instructional delivery. Using systems like PLATO, schools on the “cutting edge” put high-resolution display terminals into classrooms and connected them by modem-phone line links to central mainframes running educational software. Then came the personal computer revolution.

The next step? “Internet, internet, internet,” says Robert Kenyon, director of technology and network administrator for Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Fla. “The internet has become mainstream ‹ it’s where the future is. Now the issue is how to extend the educational networking concept to the internet.”

According to CCA Consulting, levels of access in schools range all over the map, from dial-up service requiring no networking through faster ISDN modem links to full T1 connections across wide area networks (WANs).

But more often than not, school connections are limited. While a majority of schools have building-to-building local area networks (LANs) connecting administrative offices, computer labs, libraries, and classrooms, very few are linked to other schools and libraries.

Four years ago, the 83 schools and administrative centers in the Cincinnati Public School District (CPSD) were isolated electronic islands. Most schools had computers in the office, or maybe in a computer lab or classrooms, but they didn’t talk to each other much. A few buildings housed administrative LANs for the office computers, but these LANs were not connected to CPSD’s district office or to other school buildings. Instructional LANs were no more than an item for discussion.

CPSD maintained inter-building links by deploying a fleet of trucks (nicknamed the “pony express”) to deliver files, memos, and hard-copy student records. A typical delivery could take two to three days. “At the beginning of the school year, it took us three or four weeks to figure out where our students were,” says Dave Hickey, manager of network and technology services for the district.

The networking plan was to put at least a three-computer networks in every school office, plus additional classroom computers so that all students could communicate via eMail with other schools inside and outside the district, and access the internet.

Local area networks have been installed in about 30 middle and high schools, which are interconnected in the district-wide network with the CPSD administrative sites via high-speed fiber backbones. Central administration supports more than 2,700 classroom computers and approximately 850 office computers located across 83 sites.

The new high-speed district WAN delivers internet access to about 11,500 student via fiber-optic cable between each school building and the central office, where seven high-performance central file servers are located. There are 3,300 workstations in classrooms and administrative offices, and CPSD has plans to go up to 6,000 with the next round of funding.

The administration is delighted with the results of its networking initiative, which has even improved student record-keeping, says Hickey. The network upgrade was key to providing student access to electronic information beyond the school building. The network allows the district to improve transportation and food services. Administrative tasks that used to take three or four weeks now takes only hours.

With the network, Hickey said,”racking students is easier and less time-consuming.

Other aspects of the project included in-school wiring for administrative school offices and classrooms, network equipment in the school cable closets, high-speed connections back to the central office, electrical upgrades, and administrative support. The district has implemented this plan in stages, with Phase I completed in October 1997.

CCA Consulting

Cincinnati Public Schools

Microsoft NT Server for Education


Phoenix School District #1

St. Andrews School


This library services savant serves up a healthy slice of Parent Internet Education (P.I.E.)

Della Curtis, coordinator of Library Information Services for the Baltimore County Public Schools, isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.

When Curtis heard Vice President Gore issue a challenge to make the internet more “family friendly” during an online summit last December, she took his challenge to heart. She began to brainstorm how her district could encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s online education.

“It’s like literacy‹if I can’t read to my children, there’s something missing in their education,” Curtis said. “Well, many parents are computer-illiterate. Their children know more about computers than they do. We need to change that. We need to teach parents to work with their children on the internet just like they do in other subjects, like reading or math.”

From this simple challenge has sprung an extensive campaign spearheaded by Curtis and Doris Glotzbach, supervisor for the district’s library media centers. Called Parent Internet Education (P.I.E.), the program aims to educate all of Baltimore County’s parents about the internet. P.I.E. will launch officially with a Family Internet Expo at Towson University from June 5-7 and will continue with internet training sessions throughout the 1998-99 school year.

Parent training workshops

P.I.E. may be the most ambitious initiative of its kind in the country. Its steering committee, which includes noted cyberspace lawyer Parry Aftab, Esq., author of A Parent’s Guide to the Internet, is made up of 33 parents, students, library media specialists, and other representatives from around the county.

The committee has been meeting since January to outline the program. In March, its members sent a survey to 8,000 parents to determine what they already know about the internet, what they want to know, and how they currently use (or do not use) the internet with their children. Results of the survey will be used to design training workshops for parents beginning in the fall.

Curtis said the committee has just begun the task of compiling data from the surveys, but a preliminary scanning of 100 surveys showed that when asked the question, “Do you spend time online with your children?” 62 percent responded “no.”

The workshops, which comprise the core of the P.I.E. program, will take place at each of the district’s 162 schools. Workshops will be offered in the evenings and on weekends to fit into parents’ schedules. They will be taught by training teams consisting of the school’s library media specialist, a teacher, a parent, a student, an administrator, and a senior citizen.

“We wanted representation from all segments of the school community to show that the internet belongs to everybody,” Curtis explained. “We wanted to encourage not only parents, but also grandparents and other family members, to participate in the workshops. If an adult sees a grandparent or a child teaching people how to use the internet, he or she may think, ‘I can do this, too!'”

Training will be carefully crafted to be non-threatening and will include hands-on activities. It will cover topics such as how to find information on the world wide web, how to use the internet as a tool for parenting, and how to make the online experience safe for children.

“Kids may think they’re anonymous behind a computer screen, but they’re not,” Curtis said. “We want to make parents aware of the dangers involved, and also teach them the responsibilities required to be good net citizens so they can reinforce these [duties] at home with their children.”

Aftab is presently working on a script for a video which will be part of the P.I.E. training. In addition, the P.I.E. web site will link the training teams to educational materials already available on the internet. “Whatever we develop, we are going to share with everyone via our web site,” Curtis said.

Each school’s library media specialist will assume leadership for his or her school’s training team, Curtis said. All of Baltimore County’s library media specialists have received previous internet training through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

A Piece of the P.I.E.

The district is promoting its program with the slogan, “Get a Piece of the P.I.E.” To kick things off, Towson University will host P.I.E.’s Family Internet Expo next month.

The Expo will feature panel discussions with leading law enforcement experts such as personnel from U.S. Customs, child advocacy groups, and online specialists. Exhibitors from the internet industry‹manufacturers of filtering devices, developers of child-content sites, software and book publishers‹will be on hand to showcase their products and services and to answer parents’ questions. Numerous internet workshops and training sessions will also be offered.

To publicize the Expo, the steering committee has undertaken an extensive promotional campaign that includes public service announcements on the county’s education channel, local newspaper stories, weekly bulletins sent home with students, and speeches to all the PTA groups.

Curtis said the reception she has gotten from the PTA groups has been incredible: “They’re all nodding their heads as I’m speaking. They think it’s great that they’re being encouraged to participate in something more substantial than making cupcakes.”

Maryland’s State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Nancy Grasmick, has also expressed her support. “One of our national and state goals of education is parental involvement,” Curtis said. “This program helps us meet that goal.”

While much of the start-up cost of the program will be funded by the Frances O. Fleming Fund‹a memorial fund established in honor of a previous library coordinator for Baltimore County Public Schools‹more money needs to be raised. Curtis and Glotzbach were busy rounding up corporate sponsors at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development conference held March 21-24 in San Antonio and have sent 400 invitations to potential exhibitors or sponsors to participate in the district’s initiative.

The program’s biggest expense comes from its pledge to provide baby-sitting or transportation services to any parent who needs them for any P.I.E. event or workshop. “We wanted to provide the support necessary so that all interested parents could attend,” said Curtis.

As another incentive to get parents involved, a drawing for a computer workstation will be held at the end of the year. Parents will earn a chance to enter the drawing each time they attend a workshop or other event. Plus, a local internet service provider has offered to donate free service for a year to any parent who participates.

To track the success of P.I.E., students from the Randallstown High School mass communications magnet program will produce a video starting in April which documents the learning experiences of five families before, during, and after the project.

During the week of Sept. 16-23, the Baltimore County Public Schools will also conduct a Family Internet Town Meeting using the schools’ distance-learning labs and the local education channel. Aftab and a panel of experts, along with parents and children, will discuss issues and uses of the internet.

“We don’t want to scare parents about the dangers of the internet‹the media does a good job of that already,” said Curtis. “But we do want to point out the potholes in the information superhighway so parents can help their children learn to steer around them. By educating parents about both the bright and dark sides of the internet, we’re helping educate our children.”

Baltimore County Public Schools

Parent Internet Education program

The Parents’ Guide to the Internet by Parry Aftab, Esq.