Educators and law enforcement officials in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., believe they have found the answer to poor educational performance, student truancy, and high rates of suspension: They have teamed up on a project that gets kids interested in learning through computers and an online instructional program that is accessible outside of school as well.

Eleven Fort Lauderdale sites—including area schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and churches—are hooking students up to the online curriculum resource NovaNET. By the end of 1999, Fort Lauderdale expects 15 schools to be brought online, according to the program’s founder, Bob Cooke.

Cooke, the grant coordinator for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, said the program marks a unique partnership between the schools and the local law enforcement community. Funding for the project comes primarily from the U.S. Department of Justice through a local law enforcement block grant, with additional funding from the Broward County School Board.

“This combination of resources and caring people is what is needed to keep students’ academic fires lit outside of school hours,” Cooke said.

NovaNET, which recently was acquired by the Minneapolis-based company NCS Inc., is an interactive electronic curriculum that offers online classes in more than 100 subject areas. The program is designed to act like a personal tutor for each student and can be adjusted for different levels of instructional need.

The lessons use color and graphics to engage students’ imaginations, according to NovaNET. They are structured to accept original student answers to the questions they pose, so students develop critical thinking and analysis skills as well as general content knowledge.

All of NovaNET’s packaged curricula are organized into units consisting of a pre-test, NovaNET lessons, and a post-test. Because instructors are able to join in the learning process, they can override the system at any point to modify the prescription, re-assign tests, or advance students to the next unit, the company said.

With the many different sites, documentation for the program was critical, Cooke said. Students needed to be tracked as they moved from one site to another. NovaNET’s management system provides seamless recordkeeping, including remote monitoring and the ability to track a student’s complete progress. All NovaNET documentation is stored centrally and student records can be transferred from any NovaNET site in the country.

The system is customizable to meet very specific needs, according to NovaNET, so the curriculum in Fort Lauderdale has been designed to fully correlate with the Florida Sunshine Standards. NovaNET also provides students with access to practice versions of standardized tests such as the ACT/SAT, the GED, and the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. In addition, preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was to be added to the program’s curriculum this fall.

Cooke said he expects the NovaNET program to enhance and support existing community programs designed to keep kids off the streets and interested in learning after-hours, such as the Youth Motivation Program, Weed and Seed Safe Haven, and the Community Development’s Welfare to Work program.

So far, the outcome of the program has been greater than expected, Cooke said. For the first time, many struggling teens are taking a whole new attitude toward learning, he said, adding that they are energized and eager to make more of their lives. “Students have control over their learning,” he said. “They can work at their own pace” and level.

Deborah Stubbs, principal of Dillard High School—one of the participating schools—agrees. “Students are diving right into the compelling, challenging, and interactive lessons,” she said.

Summed Cooke: “I want people involved to remember that NovaNET is an important component of the bigger project,” he said, “[which is] to maximize educational capabilities, increase the number of graduates with marketable and college applicable skills, revitalize interest in schools, and provide the tools essential to being positive and productive citizens.”

Broward County Public Schools

http://www.browardschools.com

Fort Lauderdale Police Department

http://ci.ftlaud.fl.us/police/index.html

NovaNET Learning Inc.

http://www.novanet.com

U.S. Department of Justice

http://www.usdoj.gov