Innovative schools around the United States are using technology to enable distant parents–including troops in Iraq and other remote locations–to feel a little more togetherness, even if the get-togethers are only virtual.

Some Central Texas school districts plan to make this year’s high school graduation ceremonies accessible on the internet or by videoconference so soldiers deployed to Iraq from nearby Fort Hood can watch, officials said.

In addition to watching the ceremony, a deployed parent will be able to talk to his or her graduating student one-on-one via a private videoconference, said Bob Massey, a Killeen Independent School District spokesman.

So far, more than 250 soon-to-be graduates have signed up to participate in videoconferencing, he said.

Ceremonies for four Killeen high schools, plus one ceremony each for Salado, Temple, Copperas Cove, and Belton school districts, can be accessed on the Killeen Independent School District web site, Massey said.

The commencement ceremonies are May 25-30, he said.

Thousands of Fort Hood soldiers have deployed to Iraq since war broke out last year.

A webcast of the Sherman High School graduation ceremony in Seth, W.Va., to an Army parent in Iraq led the school to use its internet and video facilities to reunite a school employee with her son, who has been stationed overseas for more than a year.

Donna Massey hadn’t seen her son, Army Sgt. Robert Massey Jr., who is stationed in Germany, for 14 months.

But mother and son got the chance to see one another on May 20, via the internet, through a one-way, video-only connection.

Sherman High School, where Donna Massey has worked as a cook for 23 years, broadcast its evening graduation ceremony live over the web so another soldier, who is stationed in Iraq, could see his daughter get her diploma.

When Massey found out about the 6 p.m. webcast, she mentioned to school officials that it would be nice if she could get on camera to get a message to her son in Germany.

“They announced it here at school, and I said, ‘If I could be here early, then maybe I could say something to my son,”‘ she told the Associated Press. “They came back and said ‘Most definitely.”‘

The webcast did not include audio, so Massey and other family members made signs out of white poster board.

One sign was decorated with two American flags, another was adorned with yellow ribbons, all had messages such as “We miss you,” and “We’re so proud of you.”

And the messages were not just for Sgt. Massey, said his mother, but also for his wife, Heidi, and 3-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, who are with him in Germany.

The webcast project started with Sherry Flynn, who was determined that her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Flynn, get to see their middle daughter, Meagan, graduate with about 80 other seniors.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” Sherry Flynn said the evening of the graduation ceremony. “Meagan had a sign that said ‘I made it Dad.’ She has a lot of friends in the school and they were happy her daddy got to watch her graduate.”

Sherry Flynn set the project in motion when she came to the school May 19 to see what could be done so that her husband could see the ceremony. That’s when computer science teacher Randy Herron and his students set to work.

With the help of Sherman alumnus Brad Barker, who is now a student at West Virginia University Tech, a web cam was set up and linked to the school’s web site.

Sgt. Flynn called the school the morning of the graduation ceremony to make sure everything was set, and thanked school personnel for setting up the broadcast.

“I’m just glad that we have the technology at Sherman to be able to do that,” Principal Theresa Lonker said. “We have a lot of students and a lot of school personnel that have just stepped up to the plate.”

Herron and his students have undertaken similar projects in the past. The school was the first in the state to broadcast a football game over the internet a few years ago, Herron said.

“We could make it an annual event,” Herron said of the graduation webcast.

Links:

Killeen Independent School District
http://www.killeenisd.org

Sherman High School
http://www.shermanhigh.com/