Phoenix students cash in academic success for free computers

Nearly 1,000 inner-city Phoenix high school students are getting an incentive to keep a “C” average. Businesses around the country have donated used computers or partnered with schools to supply new laptops to chosen sophomores. The students—who will take the equipment home on a loan until they transfer or graduate—also are required to stay out of trouble and stay in school in order to keep the computers.

The Phoenix Union High School District’s $1.2 million giveaway may well be the most extensive undertaken by a single district.

“It’s unusual,” said Cheryl Williams, director of educational technology programs at the National School Boards Association. “I think we need to try all types of experiments. Technology really engages kids.”

Educators hope the computers will open doors for those new to English and those trying to improve their reading skills. The first 100 machines were doled out at South Mountain High School Oct. 23 and 25.

Surveys will be conducted and test scores analyzed in coming years to measure the success of the program.

All sophomores are eligible for the giveaway, but families will have to pay for internet service if they want it and attend four hours of training.

The last of the computers, paid for by federal funds earmarked to improve academic performance, will be handed out by the end of the year.


Wyoming to help teachers meet standards online

The Wyoming Department of Education has contracted with an internet company to post lesson plans online to help teachers meet statewide academic standards.

State School Superintendent Judy Catchpole said the three-year contract with Copernicus Education Gateway allows teachers to exchange lessons and activities the state agrees will help students to graduate.

Teachers, parents, and students can access the internet depository by clicking on a Copernicus web site that offers the Wyoming Education Gateway, known as “WEdGate,” at All lessons must be approved by the state Department of Education before being posted on the Wyoming gateway.

Parents and students can use the site to look at lesson plans. School districts can use the site to contact parents and students on student progress and homework assignments.

The material is transmitted through the Wyoming Equality Network, a program started in 1998 between the state and US West, now Qwest, to link all Wyoming schools with advanced technology, officials said.

A review of the network’s usage after school shows teachers are seeking out internet resources, Catchpole said. “Our usage reports show a tremendous increase in online time by teachers. Here is a web resource tailored to Wyoming needs,” she said.

The state plans to train teachers on how to use the site. Work has begun with teachers to place lesson plans and activities on the site, Catchpole said.

WEdGate also will feature national internet projects sponsored by NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, Encyclopaedia Britannica, U.S. Department of Education, Voyager Online, and others.

The $193,000 contract is paid for by the federal government, state officials said.


Schools, businesses team up to promote tech careers

Educators and corporate leaders came together Oct. 3 to seek solutions to America’s growing need for a highly-skilled technology work force. The occasion was TechiesDay 2000, the second annual celebration designed to promote awareness of the opportunities that exist for students in the technology industry.

In classrooms across the country, technology workers focused on increasing technology awareness and readiness among K-12 students through workshops, demonstrations, and speeches.

And in Washington, D.C., policy-makers who have a major influence on education, government, and technology discussed long-term solutions for preparing and enticing kids into technology careers at the TechiesDay Workforce Development Summit.

“Everyone knows, and everyone in this room understands, we have to deal with the pipeline problem,” said Linda Roberts, special advisor for technology to the U.S. Department of Education and keynote speaker. “We have to engage fourth-graders now so they are there when you need them,” Roberts said, addressing company executives.

The nation’s schools must invest in high-quality math and science teachers and focus on high-standard, high-quality curriculum, Roberts added. Since technology in schools can amplify learning, schools should create an action-oriented, long-term strategy for preparing students to use these 21st-century tools.

Roberts acknowledged that some schools have greater needs—such as fixing leaky roofs and buying books—but she said the problem is not simply one of economics.

“I don’t think those schools are lacking money, but rather they are lacking leadership,” Roberts said. When she toured some of the poorer rural schools in Mississippi Delta states, she said, she was surprised at their ability to use technology in learning.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta said the optimum time for reaching kids and getting them to consider high-tech careers is between the ages of 11 and 15. A new web site called will inform kids and their parents about jobs in the technology sector, he said.

“High-tech jobs are the fast growing part of our growing economy,” Mineta said. “Kids need to hear about technology and careers that are waiting for them way before they get to college. We are hoping that this web page will not only engage and entertain, but let kids know what opportunities are out there.” The site is directed toward both parents and students, since parents have an impact on students’ career decisions.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the recent action by Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas—which allow foreigners to fill U.S. technology-related jobs—indicates shortcomings in the nation’s education system.

“It points to a real failing of our society that we have such pressure of seeking foreigners to fill those jobs,” Bingaman said.

Bingaman cited the recent Glenn Commission report on math and science education, called “Before It’s Too Late,” which indicates there has been a 21-percent drop in the number of math degrees and a 45-percent drop in the number of engineering degrees granted by U.S. colleges, although there are great opportunities for students who enter those professions.

“The report makes it clear that in order to increase the number of math and science workers—which everyone agrees is important—we need to [improve] math and science education,” Bingaman said. “This should be a wake-up call that this problem goes to the core of our economic future.”

A CEO panel at the summit floated ideas and concepts that both industry and education should adopt in an effort to increase the number of technology workers.

“If we say technology is sexy and chic, the demand [for it] will drive the change,” said Peter Crosby, chairman of Girl Geeks.

“I don’t see a willingness to take a risk, to make a change,” said Sherlye Bolton, CEO of Scientific Learning Corp. “Technology represents the largest, biggest change that has happened” to date.

Crosby said companies need high-tech employees who are well-rounded and socially adept—not like the stereotype of the “computer geek” that has been associated with computer users in the past. “Being able to cross-train is a big boost for companies,” he said.

Others argued that industry, government, and education need to create partnerships to solve this problem.

“Schools can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone and business can’t do it alone. We need to create these alliances,” said Phyllis Eisen, executive director of the Center for Workforce Success and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Gene Longo, director of U.S. Operations for the Cisco Networking Academy program, accepted the TechiesDay Best Practices Award for the academy’s work in training and mentoring high school students.

Five technology professionals who won the TechieTeam 2000 competition, which recognized individuals for introducing students to technology, also received a new Compaq computer and more than $3,000 worth of Microsoft software.


U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Commerce

Get Tech


Corporations could get naming rights to tech school

A proposal by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District to fund a new technology school, in part, through corporate sponsorships has some observers questioning the infiltration of commercialism into public education.

Corporations already have placed their names all over the sporting world by paying to name stadiums and arenas. Now, Charlotte, N.C., school officials are considering selling naming rights to classrooms and cafeterias. Could the future feature the Gateway computer lab or the Nike gymnasium?

The school board is considering a policy to allow some campus areas—including a technical high school now under construction in west Charlotte—to be named after a corporate entity that makes “significant contributions” to the school or district.

Until now, Charlotte-Mecklenberg has had a restrictive naming policy for school property, allowing elements to be named only after people who have gained recognition in some way, district officials say.

That policy soon may change, depending on the outcome of a Nov. 28 school board vote.

“In examining that policy and thinking ahead to the future, we now have the opportunity to take advantage of a corporate gift—be it a cash gift, a technology gift, or a services gift—and, in return, allow that company to display [its] brand name in a prominent way,” said John Lassiter, vice-chair of the school board.

Although the proposed policy could apply to any school, Superintendent Eric Smith said it was crafted with the technical high school in mind.

The school’s focus will be preparing students for careers in computer science, manufacturing, transportation, construction, environmental science, and health science.

That means students will need training on expensive equipment that tight school budgets can’t always handle, Smith said. So, the district plans to ask businesses for help. Offering to name a lab, school wing, or other campus area after these businesses may encourage corporate donations, he said.

“In a time when schools have increasing need for revenue and difficulties generating that revenue, this is an avenue that, if properly done, could provide benefits to all involved,” Lassiter agreed.

Lassiter said construction of the new technology high school is not dependent on whether the school board decides to accept corporate sponsorships. “The sponsorships are to provide enhancements and additional things like labs, hardware, and software,” he said.

Such partnerships have triggered a debate in school districts around the country over how involved companies should be with schools.

Officials with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction didn’t know of any examples of schools naming campus areas after businesses, although there are plenty of instances in the Carolinas and elsewhere of schools teaming up with businesses for everything from school supplies to computers to pizza lunches.

“It’s not new at the K-12 level, in the sense that many schools have scoreboards donated by Coca-Cola or computers with the brand name displayed on the box. Branding is not new,” said Lassiter.

Denise Carter, head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PTA Council, said the public schools could not function without outside business support. And school board members said they have yet to receive complaints about the proposal.

But some people worry that corporate influences in schools can go too far. The California-based Center for Commercial-Free Public Education argues that children become easy targets for advertising when their schools use scoreboards sponsored by soda companies or cafeterias contract to sell a specific product.

According to the center’s web site, “Commercialism in America’s classrooms is reaching epidemic proportions, with new forms of in-school advertising being discovered every week.”

But branding is not necessarily the same thing as advertising, district officials say.

“We are just talking about a name on a wall. It is not an active situation that asks you to make a decision when a screen comes up on a computer,” said Lassiter. “It would be naive to say that our kids aren’t exposed to broad-based commercialism at all times.”

If the policy receives a majority vote at the Nov. 28 school board meeting, it will go into effect immediately.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

Center for Commercial-Free Public Education


Hawthorn Elementary’s leader has a red-letter plan

When Youssef Yomtoob first became superintendent of Hawthorn Elementary District 73 in Vernon Hills, Ill., he successfully led the implementation of computers and internet access into every classroom and library in the elementary-level school district.

Now, he plans to level the technological playing field of students of all economic backgrounds by connecting every home in the district to the internet.

Yomtoob, also known as Dr. Joe, recognizes that students who have internet-connected computers at home have an advantage over those who don’t—and he wants to do something about it.

“We would like to see that every house that has kids who go to our schools has internet access,” Yomtoob said. “If all our children have access to the internet [at home], that will enhance learning and the opportunity for success for all children.”

He isn’t sure how much it will cost or what, exactly, each household needs, but he does know some homes will need computer equipment—and a few will even need to have phone lines installed. At this point, “this is just a dream more than anything else,” he said.

The district’s school board doesn’t have any worries about Yomtoob’s dream to wire every household in the district.

“We realize that it’s a huge undertaking. It has many challenges, but that doesn’t bother any of us,” said Rich Paul, a member of the Hawthorn school board. Yomtoob has the outgoing personality required to make this vision successful, he explained.

“He’s not shy about asking people for things or telling people to do things, depending on the situation, and building a consensus,” Paul said. “Dr. Joe has the ability to make people see what the benefit is for them, as well as the benefit for the greater good.”

Since he doesn’t want to use public money to pay for his plan, Yomtoob said, he will form a foundation—involving city officials, local businesses, and the school district—to organize and raise funds for the initiative.

“We have a certain portion of our population that does not have access to the internet, which is important for school work and communication with parents,” Yomtoob said. “Fifteen to 30 percent do not have access to the internet at home.”

The foundation will need to provide resources such as hardware, phone lines, training, and internet service. It also will need to sustain and support the effort.

Yomtoob, who has been toying with this idea for the last four or five years, was expected to hold a summit to encourage city officials, businessmen, and state politicians to band together and create partnerships to accomplish this goal.

Although it is still early, parts of the community have expressed interest, he said. For example, one internet service provider has volunteered to provide every low-income household with a connection.

“We want to be the first school system to bridge the digital divide,” Yomtoob said. “We are taking leadership because, as a superintendent, it’s my belief that every kid has the potential to be successful—but [to do that] they have to be equal.”

When Yomtoob first became superintendent of the 3,400-student district five years ago, he convinced residents to pass a bond issue to spend $500,000 to $700,000 each year on technology.

Now, the K-8 district has 800 computers networked with fiber optics and T1 connections. Every classroom is wired and has at least one computer connected to the internet.

The district’s 250 teachers use the production and multimedia labs for teaching, where students practice both digital photography and digital cinematography.

At each school, a team of teachers is trained to provide technology leadership within their school. They do everything from troubleshooting to training fellow teachers. The teachers have internet connections at home and have full eMail accounts. Some students also have eMail access.

“When Dr. Joe was hired, I don’t think our schools had much in the way of computers except for a few Macintosh computers,” Paul said. Now, all the classrooms—including the ones built in 1932—are connected to the internet.

Robert Hudson, the district’s technology director, agreed that students’ access to technology took a quantum leap after Yomtoob became superintendent.

“It was wonderful for him to put so much confidence in our department,” Hudson said. “At one point, he handed us $2 million and said, ‘Make it happen.'”

Technology to enhance learning was one of the goals Yomtoob enacted when he started as superintendent. “He’s always got his eye on what’s important for these kids,” Hudson said, appreciative of Yomtoob’s leadership.

“You can’t dream without the support structure, and it has to come from the top—and Dr. Joe is the one to make it happen,” Hudson said. “It’s been very motivating and very exciting to work with him.”

Paul described Yomtoob as having great vision and “more ideas than anyone could imagine—more than he could tell the school board about. Any time someone has an idea, the reaction isn’t, ‘Oh, we tried that and it didn’t work.’ Typically, the reaction—whether [the idea] comes from the school board or a teacher or a staff member—is ‘Hmmm, that might work.'”

Realizing that learning doesn’t just happen at school, Yomtoob sees connecting every family to the internet as an opportunity to extend learning into all homes. Not only will it expose students to technology, but their parents will benefit as well.

“His heart is really in it for ‘all children will learn and all children will succeed,'” Hudson said.

Hawthorn School District 73


Students record music—and raise money—at

The Anne Darling Elementary School technology club has abandoned the traditional candy and wrapping-paper fund-raisers in favor of something a little more tech-savvy—and harmonious—with a new online fundraiser that allows kids to produce and sell their own compact discs.

The San Jose-based elementary school’s students are climbing the internet music charts with their originally written and performed MP3 songs about throwing rocks, spiders, and eating cafeteria food, available on the web site.

So popular are the kids’ rendition of “Girls Rule!” and “I Ain’t Throwin’ No Rock” that they’ve earned more than $650 this year from online CD sales and playback earnings through In October, they garnered an additional $35,500 in organizational contributions for their school.

The after-school program for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders began last year with the modest goal of bringing internet access to all classroom computers. But the tech club’s popularity soon blossomed—an online student poll found computers tied in popularity with recess and art at the school.

Naturally, creating pop songs wasn’t far behind. Anne Darling was the one of the first schools to use, according to technology club director Richard Soos. formed the Spirit 2000 fund-raising program after seeing the success that educators at schools such as Anne Darling were having using the site.

“We wanted to find new ways to get people to actively participate in our site, and we noticed that several schools already had material on our site at the end of last year,” said Chris Montgomery, vice president of subscription services at and a former teacher.

“We thought that if we could give schools the ability to make CDs of their music, then they could sell those CDs as a fund-raising tool. What parent wouldn’t want to buy a CD of their child’s music?”

The Spirit 2000 program allows students from the music, drama, and even athletic departments to create, record, and promote music, spoken word, and other audio files and sell them online. provides most of the necessary resources for schools to participate, including online lesson plans, guides for educators, and a custom web page for each school. The company also assists in the marketing, promotion, manufacturing, and distribution of finished CDs within the campaign.

Company officials explained that schools do not need to purchase expensive recording equipment to participate. “The most simple recording system is two microphones and a tape deck. The next level up would be to get a four-track recorder,” said Montgomery. believes the power of the program goes far beyond fund-raising. “This is a curriculum-enhancement tool as well as a fund-raising tool,” Montgomery said. “By going through the process of recording and selling their own music, kids can learn about music theory, music history, audio technology, business and marketing, and really almost any other subject you can think of. These kids are learning about a whole industry.”

“The kids started off asking me if they could make a CD and things blossomed. They learned how to do internet research, how to make a CD, how to manipulate sound files on a computer, and how to upload and download files and correspond with experts via eMail,” Soos added.

To participate, educators must register their students as new artists on

Anne Darling Elementary is one of 200 schools that have uploaded music onto An additional 150 schools have signed up for the program and are waiting to turn their music into MP3 files and upload them to the site’s network, Montgomery said.

According to Montgomery, Spirit 2000 helps schools make money in three ways.

“First, we make a CD of [students’] recordings and sell it online for them. We split the proceeds 50-50 with the school, and there is no minimum number of CDs to buy. Once a parent or customer buys a CD on the site, only then is the CD burned and the booklet printed. That way, there is less inventory and no risk to us,” Montgomery said. lets school officials choose the price of the CD they wish to sell. Usually, a CD will cost $8.99, but the cost can range from $5.99 to $15.

“The second way to make money is what we call ‘payback for playback.’ Every month, pays out $1 million to the people who are listening to our site. Any free music qualifies for a small portion of that money,” said Montgomery.

“The third way to make money is through our subscription audio channels. Parents can sign up for that and check the music updates more regularly. This way, we can create a backlog of audio content, which can be compiled into an audio yearbook at the end of the year.”

According to Soos, Anne Darling’s involvement with has generated other money for the school as well.

“We are blessed because the business world sees the advantage to having children participate directly in the utilization of technology as an everyday tool,” he said. In addition to other awards, the school has received an Internet Innovator’s Award for $33,500 from National Semiconductor and another $2,000 from Intel and the city of San Jose.

“I have the students who participated last year tutoring three or four students apiece this year. I am hoping by May of 2001 that each classroom will have their own CD yearbook based upon the leadership of the students who participated last year,” said Soos.

What do the kids think about the program? “We can make our own web pages,” boasted fifth-grader David Medeiros. “It’s fun because we’re singing songs and stuff like that and we get to pretend we’re famous.”

If Grammies were given out for enthusiasm, the students at Anne Darling would be shoe-ins. “Cafeteria food, tastes so rude, sausage and mush, green fish sticks!” begins the song “Cafeteria.” “No, no, no, no. I ain’t throwin’ this rock,” sings another student in the technology club.

Rhyming lyrics play second-fiddle to volume and enthusiasm on technology club tunes, while Soos provides bouncy, computer-generated background music. “Parents are extremely proud of their children and very happy to see their children crossing what is commonly known as the digital divide,” said Soos.

“There is definitely a ‘cool factor’ for kids. is a huge web site, and kids put a lot of pride into what they put on the site,” Montgomery said.

Anne Darling Tech Club

Schoolkids on l


Student journalists turn to web to bypass censorship

It was an emotional act of teen-age mutiny—printing a blank page on the front of the Sidwell Friends school newspaper after administrators had pulled a scathing article about alleged wrongdoing in a math class.

Unsure of what to do with the unpublished story, the staff had an empowering idea: Why not post the story on the internet from a student’s home computer? In fact, thousands of high school students across the country have discovered the same way around school censorship—just post the stories on the web and spread the word.

More than a decade after a 1988 Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of school administrators to censor student articles, many high school newspapers are finding a new and long-coveted sphere of freedom on the internet, transforming the very nature of free speech for students.

The Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., estimates that at least 10,000 underground high school newspapers and web pages are floating in cyberspace—and more emerge every day. Some have spunky names, such as “Whatever” and “Words Not Bullets.”

These newspapers are nothing like the innocuous pages of cafeteria menus, winning sports scores, and award columns that school officials peruse and edit before printing, said Mark Goodman, executive director of the center.

“This does open up a whole new world,” said Russ Schwartz, editor of the school newspaper at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., where some students are thinking of launching an underground paper.

For school officials, though, the online underground paper raises new concerns about how to balance the First Amendment with rising anxiety about school safety.

In the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, the irreverent and sometimes off-color underground newspapers are haunting reminders of the web pages created by the student gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in which they spewed their anger.

“Student newspapers and web pages done outside of school [are] one of the stealth issues for schools, and [the issue is] going to become even bigger,” said Edwin C. Darden, a staff attorney for the National School Boards Association. “The dilemma is that the student is off campus, and they have First Amendment rights. On the other hand, school officials have a responsibility to protect the school and not have those rights cause harm or fear within the school walls.”

Several court rulings have declared that the internet is outside the reach of school officials. Students who publish independent newspapers or web pages on home computers cannot be censored even if they focus on school issues, courts have said.

There are also nonprofit sites, such as WireTap, which act as collective portals where students from across the country can safely post articles banned in school-sponsored publications. The articles cover topics such as teen-agers’ fears that schools are going overboard with “zero tolerance” policies after Columbine.

“It’s incredibly exciting, healthy, and an increasingly necessary outlet for high school journalists who have long been searching for freedom to express themselves,” said Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum. “The fact of the matter is most school officials view their newspapers as fluffy public-relations devices. As long as those conditions don’t change, students are going to find the internet to get from under that cage.”

The range of underground newspapers is large. Some are gossipy. Sometimes the sites are just a chance for young people to have unfiltered, melancholy rants about feeling misunderstood or ignored.

“Our paper covers topics such as stupid school policies, corrupt teachers, youth rights issues, and is a reflection of all-around general youth angst,” says the web page for Pandora’s Box, an underground newspaper in Alhambra, Calif.

Some papers are serious works of journalism, where students question authority and expose problems.

At Dorman High School in Spartanburg, S.C., the underground newspaper scooped the local media with a story about how a businessman was trying to buy the land the high school is on. The paper also reportedly was able to get school officials to put up bathroom stalls in the boys’ rest rooms.

“Some teachers really ended up enjoying the paper and it helped spark school debate,” said Adrian Smith, who created DHS UnderGround in 1997 to give himself and other students the chance to write about issues that were not allowed in the regular school newspaper. “It was a lot of fun and it was a way to get our ideas heard. It’s something I will never, ever regret doing.”

But what does a school official do when a student posts something that appears to go beyond teen-age venting—a comment that could be a threat, even in joke form, against a school?

There have been several cases in which school officials objected to a profanity-laced web page or an underground newspaper that mocked educators.

In one case, Ian Lake, a Milford, Utah, teen-ager posted an underground newspaper that made fun of some girls at his school and called one school official a town drunk.

Lake’s web site seemed like an electronic version of bathroom wall graffiti. But school officials viewed the site as a direct and violent threat, and they suspended the student. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him and seized his computer, sending it to the state crime lab. He spent seven nights in a juvenile detention center.

The charges of criminal slander filed against Lake have since been dismissed and his civil suit against the school is pending.

“I don’t morally approve of what he did. But the reason we are fighting this is because I am a strong believer in the Constitution of the United States,” said his father, David Lake. “It was written as a parody. We see parody on television all the time, and people on Saturday Night Live don’t get arrested.”

In the most recent victory for student rights in cyberspace, a county judge in Olympia, Wash., ruled that public school officials cannot punish a student for speech outside of school.

Aside from fear of dangerous web sites, school officials said, one of their concerns is that students without adult newspaper advisers are missing out on learning how to produce a serious newspaper.

“It’s an important point,” said Sara Cajder, a journalism teacher at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md., where a student has told her that he wants to create his own newspaper online. “I think going online avoids censorship, but there is also a real value to teaching students about libel and educating them about how to practice journalism and express their ideas.”

Some schools, such as Blake and Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va., have found ways to step in and help students run newspapers on the web. Adults are realizing they should stay involved, even if the project is done outside school, Cajder said.

“There is a way to have a happy medium,” she said.

At Yorktown, for instance, Nick Summers, co-editor of the regular school newspaper, worked with school officials and the school’s web master to set up the newspaper’s web site. The site will have its own server that will be out of the reach of school officials.

At Sidwell Friends school, the censorship issue began when the newspaper investigated an incident in which students pretending to be a teacher called a textbook company to get workbook answers. School officials told the newspaper staff that a story about the episode would be needlessly embarrassing to the school, which prompted the students to post the article on the internet.

Since then, Sidwell officials have told the student editors they will try to be more flexible so that students don’t have to resort to using the web, said Jake Jeppson, an editor for the school paper.

“The idea of turning to the web sparked discussion with the administration, and in the next instance, our editors got more control,” Jeppson said. “The availability of the internet ended up helping the print paper.”

For now, cyberspace is a new and protected place to vent frustrations, with or without adult approval.

“Sir Lance A Lot’s Herald,” an underground paper from Wimberly, Texas, High School, has both satire with goofy pictures of the editors and serious articles that have sparked changes in school policy. Last year, the paper reported that a gun was brought to school, a story that the regular school newspaper did not touch.

“No one wants to offend anyone. But there are kids in the journalism department, and they are very talented, but they can’t say what they want to because it’s censored,” said Lance Lipinsky, a sophomore and founder of the online paper. “We have found a way around that.”

Student Press Law Center

Freedom Forum

DHS UnderGround

James Hubert Blake High School

Yorktown High School

Sir Lance A Lot’s Herald


Online conference urges new thinking for new schools

When modernizing old buildings or designing new ones, school districts should model them after the workplace, make technology centers the focal point, and get input from students, parents, and businesses, according to educators who shared their experiences in an online town meeting sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

The meeting, which aired on public broadcast and on the internet, addressed the topic, “Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century.” The live audience and home viewers were invited to ask questions of panelists, all of whom were experienced at renovating or building schools with technology in mind.

Opening the discussion, Education Secretary Richard Riley said, “We need to equip schools with the latest technology to help teachers and students take full advantage of new and exciting tools for learning.”

We also need to re-imagine schools, he said, increasing their uses by incorporating community technology centers into their design, having them remain open longer, and including all citizens in the school planning and building process.

At first glance, this is not an easy or affordable feat, since American schools are so old.

The United States has 89,000 public schools, 70 percent of which were built before 1970. The average U.S. school is 42 years old. The most recent studies estimate America’s schools need $322 billion in structural improvements, and thousands of additional schools need to be built to accommodate the rising student population.

“We have old buildings,” said Linda Quinn, principal of Emerald Ridge High School in South Hill, Wash. “The wiring is not suitable and even the conditions of the classroom are too cold, too hot, or too damp.”

She added, “We are still using four classrooms constructed in 1916.”

Anthony Amato, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, said some buildings in his district are 50 years old.

“We had issues with air conditioning, with wiring,” Amato said. “As soon as you poke a hole in the wall, the ‘asbestos police’ show up at your door.”

Creative thinking is necessary when faced with the high costs of installing computer networks in such old buildings, he said.

“Rather than put all of our resources and focus on trying to do what is an almost impossible task, we said, ‘Let’s get out of the box and turn our thinking around,'” Amato said. To avoid exposing asbestos, the district opted for wireless networking with laptop computers.

With its wireless network, students are free to roam anywhere in the school with their mobile computers. As a result, Amato said, both attendance and student work have improved.

Creating a workplace environment

Today’s society needs more graduates with real workforce skills, panelists said. Therefore, some schools are modeling not only the building, but also the curriculum and hours to mirror the typical workplace.

“We know that what students will need to survive [in] university settings or in the workplace is the ability to work in teams,” Quinn said. Her school was designed with workspaces that encourage collaboration. There are “no more chairs and seats bolted to the floor,” she said.

Gary Jacobs, former senior education specialist at Qualcomm Corp., described how a new high school called High Tech High added workplace environments and hours into the school environment.

At this modern facility, located at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, each student has his or her own workstation in addition to classroom, lab, and group workspace. The hours are from 9 to 4, and the day is divided into two blocks instead of 50-minute periods.

“If students feel like they are in a work environment, they’ll feel motivated, they’ll pay attention,” Jacobs said.

High Tech High’s curriculum, which was developed in collaboration with industry partners, is project-based. In one of the projects, students assemble their own computers. These projects interweave three curriculum strands: math, science, and engineering; literacy and humanities; and art and design.

In grades 11 and 12, students attend off-site internships twice a week, reinforcing the school’s emphasis on the high-tech workplace.

“We had to design the school so it looked good, but at the same time you have to get to everything,” Jacobs said. The building’s telecommunications cabling has an open architecture on the outside of the walls, so students can see how it works.

Emerald Ridge High School also uses its building as a teaching tool.

“When we designed our building, we tried to think of it as part of the curriculum,” Quinn said. “It becomes part of the textbook.” For example, she said, the drama students use the light and sound equipment in the auditorium as a hands-on classroom.

Some educators are designing their schools so the technology center is the focal point. “It’ll be the first thing you’ll see when you enter the school,” said Charlotte A. Wright, superintendent of the Weiner, Ark., Public Schools.

Another school used its computer lab to join two parallel hallways, so students would pass through it as they moved around the building. Others created computer-oriented social spaces, such as “cyber cafes.”

“I would like our school to look different. I don’t want Abraham Lincoln, if he were to come back, to recognize it,” Wright said. “A school can no longer be four walls. It has to be there for everybody.”

The technology centers at Weiner Public Schools are equipped with doors and gates so the community can use the computers at night without gaining access to the entire school.

“The modern building: Don’t just think of it as brick and mortar. It’s about clicks and bricks,” Amato said.

Involving the community

In deciding what the modern school should offer and how it should look, the panel agreed that the whole community—including parents, students, and local citizens—should be consulted.

“Don’t underestimate the need for time to plan—time for teachers and administrators and community members to talk together,” Quinn said. “If we don’t do this, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

“We hold hearings in our community. We hold board meetings,” said Reggie Felton of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. He said his district balances what the community wants with theory and research.

“It is very, very difficult to meet the demands to make sure every student has access” to modern technologies, Felton said. Often, schools will renovate one building while another becomes obsolete. He said school districts have to use money efficiently to reduce costs and seek federal and state support.

Jacobs said it’s good to involve businesses in the planning process, too, like officials did at High Tech High—especially because high-tech buildings come with high price tags. In addition to eRate funding and other government grants, businesses can help schools pay for technology.

Amato agreed: “Don’t wait for this money to come from any source.” There are innovative ways of getting computers, he said, such as collaborating with a company.

“There are a number of companies that are willing to give free connectivity [to schools]. Ours happens to be HighFusion,” he said.

The online town meeting has been archived and can be seen in its entirety at the web address listed below.

Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century

High Tech High



Feds, teachers mull ways to teach students ‘cyber ethics’

Thou shalt not vandalize web pages. Thou shalt not shut down web sites. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s MP3s.

FBI agents are spreading a new gospel to parents and teachers, hoping they’ll better educate youths that vandalism in cyberspace can be economically costly and just as criminal as mailbox bashing and graffiti spraying.

The Justice Department and the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group, have launched the Cybercitizen Partnership to encourage educators and parents to talk to children in ways that equate computer crimes with old-fashioned wrongdoing.

The nascent effort includes a series of seminars around the country for teachers, classroom materials and guides, and a web site to help parents talk to children.

“One of the most important ways of reducing crime is trying to teach ethics and morality to our kids. That same principle needs to apply to the cyber world,” said Michael Vatis, director of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center, which guards against computer attacks by terrorists, foreign agents, and teen hackers.

Vatis and other FBI agents attended a kickoff seminar, titled the National Conference on Cyber Ethics, Oct. 6 through 8 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. The conference brought together education, industry, and government representatives to talk about teaching responsible use of technology.

Part of the challenge: Many teens still consider computer mischief harmless. A recent survey found that 48 percent of students in elementary and middle school don’t consider hacking illegal.

Gail Chmura, a computer science teacher at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., makes ethics a constant in her lessons, teaching kids about topics such as computer law, software piracy, and online cheating.

She has argued with students who don’t see that stealing from a computer with bad security is as wrong as stealing from an unlocked house. “It’s always interesting that they don’t see a connection between the two,” Chmura said. “They just don’t get it.”

The FBI’s Vatis tells students, “Do you think it would be OK to go spray-paint your neighbor’s house or the grocery store down the street? On a web site, it’s the same sort of thing. It’s somebody’s storefront or an extension of themselves.”

Chmura tries similar messages. For instance, she asks a budding composer how he would feel if his music were stolen and given away online.

“They do sometimes realize that when they’re copying someone’s product, it’s not just that 5-cent disk but someone’s work they’re copying,” she said. “I think they do come to appreciate the fact that it’s somebody’s salary they’re stealing.”

Vatis cites a long list of cyber crimes perpetrated by minors, including the February jamming of major web sites such as and eBay. He tries to drive home the consequences of hacking—including the resources it drains from his center, as officials scramble to find who is responsible at the outset of an attack.

Authorities “don’t know if it’s a terrorist or a foreign military,” Vatis said. “It diverts very scarce resources of people who are trying to focus on crime, warfare, and terrorism.”

Members of the Cybercitizen Partnership are developing a comprehensive curriculum and program for educators to use as a guideline for teaching responsible use of technology. The group hopes to roll out the content by October 2001.

Cybercitizen Partnership

National Conference on Cyber Ethics: Teaching Responsible Use of the Internet


‘NearTouch’ technology taps into language-learning skills

A revolutionary radio-frequency technology is changing the way some schools are teaching language-acquisition skills. Executives from the Emeryville, Calif.-based company that now owns the technology, LeapFrog, said it soon could be used to teach an entire range of subjects—from English as a Second Language and special education to science, math, and social studies.

LeapFrog has created a tool called the LeapPad, which uses interactive audio and phonemic awareness to teach younger children a variety of skills. Introduced into the consumer market in 1999, the LeapPad is a rugged, 2.5-pound device shaped something like a notebook binder, into which specially designed paper books are inserted.

The LeapPad comes equipped with an electronic “stylus pen” that students can wield to discover more information about the text of the LeapPad book they are reading. For instance, when a child touches the stylus pen to certain words on the book’s page, he or she can hear the words pronounced or hear an individual letter, a sound effect, a phonemic sound, a word definition, or other information.

This function is the result of cutting-edge radio frequency technology created by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. The researchers created “conductive ink” that works in synthesis with the stylus pen, which essentially functions as a radio frequency antenna.

When the stylus pen/antenna is placed near a point on the book’s page, the exact location on the page is triangulated instantly. The stylus then sends that location back to the audio component of the LeapPad. Each book comes with a book-specific audio cartridge that interprets the signals sent from the stylus pen.

Each point on the page is correlated to a specific sound, so when students touch the pen to the word “cow,” they can hear the entire word pronounced, and when they touch only the letter “c,” they hear just that particular phoneme pronounced.

“It’s called ‘NearTouch’ technology,” said Kathryn Allen, vice president of sales and marketing for LeapFrog’s education division, LeapFrog SchoolHouse. “What that means is that what you touch is what you get. Older technology that relies on switches would not allow you to move quickly. Once you flip a switch, that action cannot be interrupted—but this can be interrupted.

“Basically, this technology replicates finger-pointing,” she added. “It’s so simple, intuitive, and cognitive that people wonder why we haven’t had this until now.”

Allen believes the NearTouch technology used by the LeapPad can one day be used for teaching non-English speaking children—or adults—to speak English. And that is just one example of the many conceivable uses for the technology, which LeapFrog purchased from the MIT researchers.

“A book on tape may have an audio-learning element, but it does not create the power of kinesthetic touch that this technology does,” she said.

‘Leap into Literacy’

Originally marketed exclusively to the consumer audience, LeapPad now is sold to schools as part of the company’s Leap into Literacy package.

“It’s been very well accepted by education. Right now, we have LeapPads in 1,500 classrooms, and it has only been shipping to schools for a little over six months,” said Bob Lally, president of LeapFrog SchoolHouse.

The company has added several educational changes to the consumer version, such as an alternating current adapter (the consumer product runs on batteries), specific content directed at learning, and sturdy headphones.

“The headphones are … so that the audio portion of the LeapPad will not be intrusive in the classroom,” said Caryl Hughan, director of marketing for LeapFrog SchoolHouse.

The Leap into Literacy package is focused on teaching phonics to schoolchildren in kindergarten through second grade. It contains a teacher’s manual, a tape or CD of corresponding music, and the LeapPad device, complete with three LeapPad books.

The Leap into Literacy package also comes with a LeapMat, a 3-foot by 2-foot interactive play-mat printed with the letters of the alphabet, and a LeapDesk, a tool that looks something like a keyboard with large numbers and letters in place of keys. According to the company, LeapDesk offers an adaptive teaching mode that creates a reading lesson for the student based on his or her individual skill level.

“The program is aligned for all K-2 state standards for phonemic awareness,” Lally said. The entire Leap into Literacy package, without a printer, currently sells to school districts for $695.

Reaction among educators has been favorable so far. “We’re just enchanted with it. The phonemic awareness is a great benefit for this group,” said Linda Hodges, a kindergarten teacher at Kostoryz Elementary School in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her school district received the Leap into Literacy program through a state grant.

“Each day, we allow kids free time in which they can go and sit at the Leap into Literacy Center until they have finished the story. It usually takes about 10 or 15 minutes, and each child uses it about twice a week,” she added.

The product currently offers a library of 12 decodable texts with titles such as “Casey Has a Hat” for teaching the short “a” sound and “The Fix-It Kid” for short “i.”

Thirteen more books for education will be released by the end of the year, Lally said. He estimates that each additional LeapPad book a school purchases will cost between $10 and $16, roughly comparable to the cost of a regular book.

Other applications

At this stage, LeapFrog SchoolHouse is focusing primarily on reading fluency, but Hughan said the company hopes to expand into English as a Second Language and special education applications soon, as well as across the curriculum to science, math, and social studies and to older students, too.

The NearTouch technology could be good for special education, she said, because special education students tend to learn differently, and the headphones could allow them to concentrate on the material without any outside stimulus. Hughan also said LeapFrog SchoolHouse eventually plans to use the technology to teach Spanish or other foreign languages, but not within any set time frame.

“We would consider partnering with other organizations to provide different content, and we have been approached about that,” she said. “When we find the right partner, we will move ahead.”

LeapFrog SchoolHouse