Used to be, when the school year ended, teachers would start planning for the following year by sifting through mail-order catalogs and ordering supplies, never really knowing for sure if what they were buying ultimately would resonate with a new batch of students–many of whom they might never have met before.

But what if teachers had the ability to make their own decorations and supplies–to customize posters and other classroom materials to match the needs and interests of their students? Imagine walking through the halls and seeing a poster promoting school safety featuring your school’s own security officer, or a flyer with a popular math teacher’s likeness encouraging students to do their homework. How about customized t-shirts adorned with the school mascot, or laminated calendars for local fundraising events?

For the more than 21,000 teachers and school-based professionals in the Fairfax County Public Schools, access to these and other tailor-made school materials is never more than an internet browser away–thanks to a unique resource called the Teacher Materials Preparation Center, or TMPC.

Located in the district’s Nancy F. Sprague Technology Center, the TMPC was established to serve as an in-house creation and production studio for teachers, administrators, and others to produce and manufacture the district’s very own line of school and classroom materials.

“It started as a way to help teachers do the things they needed to do to support learning in the classroom,” said Laura Romstedt, the center’s manager of media and training.

And support them, it has.

Billed as a “make-and-take facility,” TMPC employs a wide range of first-rate design and production technologies–from high-performance Hewlett-Packard and Docutech printers, giant-size poster makers, t-shirt presses, scanners, and laminators, to computerized design and video-editing software run on powerful Apple G4 iMac computers.

Using these technologies, Fairfax County educators have filled their classrooms and hallways with recognizable faces and important messages meant to keep students on task, while encouraging them to reach their potential.

The center also serves as one of the primary resources for the district’s television and video production studios, which use the technology to create sets for official FCPS programs and other district-related videos.

Teachers and other school district personnel have two ways to take advantage of the resources located in the TMPC, which is open daily during the school day and weekend mornings. Educators with projects or concepts in mind can drop by the center in person to receive training and work with full-time staff members to bring their artistic visions to life. Or, if they’re too busy to stop by the center and create their own images, they can do their shopping online.

Using the center’s web site, complete with online order forms, teachers and other personnel can access templates designed by FCPS educators and use these pre-existing templates to create their own custom posters to hang in their classrooms.

Though the center strives to keep costs to a minimum, Romstedt says, there are prices associated with each project. In most cases, she says, teachers work with their principal or building administrator to get approval for the materials, which then can be billed directly to the school.

Once the materials are ready, teachers can pick them up in person or have them delivered directly to their school via the district’s inter-county delivery service.

“The idea is to make it as convenient as possible,” Romstedt said.

For the four full-time employees who staff the TMPC, the job is about much more than simply shepherding teachers through the creative process.

Staff members also serve as multimedia consultants, visiting school buildings and fielding tech-support calls to help ensure that technology is installed and deployed efficiently across the district.

“Outreach really is a huge part of what we do,” added Romstedt. “Our staff members serve as teaching consultants to the schools.”

To help teachers and other district employees make better use of the state-of-the-art video and production technology that is available to them, the TMPC also offers a series of Media Advisory Workshops and professional development seminars.

In keeping with the idea that the use of multimedia production devices and other technologies can strengthen the classroom experience, the TMPC also features its own technology loan pool, where educators and administrators can check out video cameras, computers, and other hardware and software devices for use with certain projects.

The idea, according to Romstedt, is to give educators and administrators a chance to explore the uses of a particular device in the classroom and, eventually, get a sense for whether their school should consider making a more significant investment in the technology.

In short, “it gives individual schools an opportunity to test the technologies they might consider purchasing,” she said. CM


Teacher Materials Preparation Center