During a visit to east Arkansas in December, President Clinton and Education Secretary Richard Riley announced a program to provide free training on using the internet in the classroom for 100,000 teachers in the seven-state Mississippi Delta region.

The announcement of the free internet training program, called the MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative, was part of Clinton’s ongoing efforts to increase the prosperity of the Delta region.

The initiative, which is funded by the MCI WorldCom Foundation, will give teachers “unprecedented access to the kind of world-class educational materials that in the past only the wealthiest school districts could afford,” Clinton said.

Teachers in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee will learn over the next two years how to use the internet in general, and the MarcoPolo web site in particular, as a teaching resource.

The MarcoPolo web site provides lesson plans, panel-approved web links, and original content developed by some of the most prestigious educational organizations in the country, said Caleb Schutz, vice president of the MCI WorldCom Foundation.

Training will be offered to teachers in the Delta states free of charge and is “intended to impact every classroom in every school” in the seven states, Schutz said.

“When I first heard of the program, I thought it was a software package,” said Myrtle Jameison, a high school teacher in Earle, Arkansas. “I didn’t realize it was internet access. It’s just a matter of going to their site.”

She said her students have already surfed the MarcoPolo web site after learning about it during the president’s visit.

“You don’t have to worry about the students getting into something they shouldn’t,” Jameison said. “If they pull information up, you know it’s correct.”

The MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative is a partnership between the MCI WorldCom Foundation and seven leading nonprofit educational organizations.

Partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Kennedy Center, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council on Economic Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Geographic Society.

The MCI WorldCom Foundation has been dedicated to developing quality internet content for schools for more than three years, Schutz said.

The foundation spends between $4 million and $8 million each year on the MarcoPolo program as a corporate philanthropy project for MCI WorldCom, a global leader in communications services with operations in more than 65 countries.

“We do want to make a profound difference in education in this country,” Schutz said. “And we want to be recognized for doing that.”

The training offered by the foundation works as a pyramid system. Instructors from MarcoPolo train a group of teachers about the program, and those teachers pass on what they have learned to other teachers in their region.

“Unless someone actually demonstrates that this is useful, [teachers] are not going to use it,” said Fred Haller, director of instructional technology at Severn School in Severna Park, Md. Haller also is an instructor for the MarcoPolo program.

Haller said he shows teachers how useful the MarcoPolo program is by walking them through it. The training program is flexible and tailored to the recipient’s needs. “Some of the people I have trained literally needed to be trained on how to use the web,” he said.

Teachers learn how to use a search engine, how to use a web browser, and how resources from the MarcoPolo web site can be used in the classroom.

The MarcoPolo site is designed to avoid several problems involved in internet research, such as finding credible sources, linking to inappropriate sites, and getting lost in a sea of information.

Every link has been reviewed by college professors and experts in the field, Haller said. The site is limited to about 100 links to make research more manageable.

“The lesson plans that are listed are also cross-referenced with national standards,” Haller said. Lesson plans go through “a rigorous evaluation process.” They are peer-reviewed, edited, and re-edited. Cash grants are available to those who contribute lesson plans to the program.

Any state or school district across the country may apply to participate in the training program by filling out an application on the MarcoPolo web site. Districts that participate in the program will receive on-site training sessions taught by internet education specialists and copies of the MarcoPolo Teacher Training Kit, which contains a trainer’s guide, CD-ROM, mouse pad, and classroom poster.

The program is targeted to teachers who must meet rigorous academic goals set by their school districts, according to the foundation.

MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative