A Georgia school district is making substantial strides toward closing the digital divide by using technology to connect parents and other community members directly to its schools.

In the 91,000-student DeKalb County School System in suburban Atlanta, educators have established 16 Family Technology Resource Centers (FTRCs) to close the technology gap and address the learning needs of students and their parents.

The project was the brainchild of Dr. Edward Bouie Jr., executive director of management information systems for the DeKalb County schools.

“About five years ago, I was doing some teacher training and we had the idea to use multimedia to train parents as well as teachers,” Bouie said. “About a year later, I ended up as executive director and we expanded the idea and put it in motion.”

In a 1995 position paper, Bouie explained the reason for involving parents with their children’s education.

“Schools cannot live apart from the community in which they reside,” he wrote. “Communities of learning are vital for the stability and growth of all citizens. Stable communities working together to advance individuals’ skills in a technology-rich and information-driven atmosphere will provide the cornerstone to a citizenry ready to participate in the global economy.”

All 16 resource centers are available to DeKalb County students, their parents, senior citizens, and other interested residents, such as parents of private school students.

The goals of the resource centers are to provide equal access to computer training to all segments of the community; enhance parent knowledge of computing skills so they can help support their children’s education and improve their own employment opportunities; and strengthen partnerships among schools, parents, businesses, and community organizations.

To attain these overreaching goals, DeKalb County educators have used some advanced technologies in each resource center.

The centers offer courses delivered through interactive multimedia technologies that allow each student and parent to learn personal computer skills, job-related technical skills, basic and advanced literacy skills in reading, writing, and mathematics, and a variety of government regulations related to the workplace.

Courses are delivered to each parent in full-motion video presentations on their computer screens, and they employ frequent interaction to help parents ask the right questions and get answers.

FTRCs provide trainees with access to facilitators who answer questions, assist participants, and track attendance and course completion. Each center remains open beyond the end of the school day to allow easier scheduling.

The centers also provide childcare for parents with children too young to participate in FTRC activities. Kids under 7 are entertained with age-appropriate activities, and kids 7 and older participate in computer-related study that expands what they learn in the classroom.

Parents can receive continuing education credit by completing the courses, and each center provides them with career counseling, possible job placement, health services screening, voter registration, and public library services.

The FTRC program, now going into its fifth year, initially was funded through a $75,000 state grant, as well as local district funds and business partnerships. It continues to be successful and receive support. “In the last four years, we’ve gone from one center to 16, and we have received $11 million from the government to support the continuation of the program,” said Bouie.

“The most powerful thing is that it involves parents with their children’s education and provides opportunities to make the school the focus of the community,” he added. “It’s all about parental involvement and community development. And technology has been the tool we have used to facilitate that.”

DeKalb County School System

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us