The Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP), a massive Intel-led effort to rebuild Gulf Coast schools with the technologies they lacked before Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, unveiled its new web site during a Thursday session at NECC 2006.

HELP is working closely with the New Orleans Public Schools and other Gulf Coast districts to rebuild and install technology in hurricane-damaged districts, with the goal of giving these schools the tools they need to become 21st-century learning environments.

The new web site, www.educationhelpteam.org, offers resources for team members and those interested in helping with the effort, ways to contact the HELP team, and an explanation of a 21st-century learning environment.

“Our huge concern was that if we do not get involved, we were afraid that a lot of the Gulf region would rebuild their schools in the same way they had before, which is really an 18th- or 19th-century learning environment,” said Terry Smithson, Intel education strategist. Smithson is heading up the HELP team initiative.

“The whole Gulf has been forgotten, and we need to refocus our attention on that region,” Smithson said.

“A lot of bad happened on August 29, but so much good has happened afterwards,” said Carol Roberts, IT director of Plaquemines Parish Schools, the first area hit by Hurricane Katrina. The parish lost six of its nine schools in the hurricane. Roberts talked about her experiences working with HELP and how the team is allowing her parish to realize its vision of having a 21st-century school system.

Other Gulf Coast educators echoed Roberts’ sentiments, praising the HELP team’s efforts and recounting how much their districts need help in rebuilding and making their districts better than they were before the storms.

“There are no movie theaters, there are no malls, there are no recreational facilities, period. It’s only through programs such as this that I think our kids will be able to rebuild their sense of confidence, their sense of purpose, their sense of hope,” one school principal said.

The New Orleans Charter and Public Schools, along with the New Orleans Parochial Schools, will host Education Technology Experiences, or demonstrations of what a 21st-century school environment should look like, in the beginning of August.

“We need to bring this 21st-century learning environment in and let these decision makers see what it is,” Smithson said. “We want to provide a 21st-century learning environment menu to people.”

During these events, HELP team partners will demonstrate how they work together using technology to create a more efficient classroom and equip students with the technology skills required for college and careers. Demonstrations will include the use of interactive whiteboards, smart cards, student response systems, tablet and notebook computers, and assessment tools.

Smithson said the team soon will launch a major funding campaign challenging corporations to donate money to the Gulf Coast school districts. The money will go to these districts in the form of classroom technologies and teacher professional development. Plans for mobile classrooms, with 25 to 30 tablet or laptop computers, a printer, a projector, and a SMART Board, also are in the works.

The HELP team’s mission is to provide strategic guidance and support for the affected states and schools. Team partners have donated millions of dollars in products and services to the region. The HELP team hopes to leave behind a 21st-century learning model that can be easily replicated by other school districts and states across the nation.

“If you go there [to the Gulf Coast], I absolutely guarantee you that you will leave a changed person,” Smithson said.

Smithson said the team assessed what kinds of support that Gulf Coast schools would need and recognized there were several different levels of need. These included schools that were completely destroyed, schools that had wind and water damage, and displaced schools.

The HELP team consists of representatives from nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies such as Apple, Gateway, and Dell, and foundations. Nine committees, chaired by a nonprofit and for-profit representative, address concerns in areas such as advocacy, public relations, professional development, funding, infrastructure, and information technology. The 21st-Century Schools committee focuses on the adoption of the essential components of successful 21st-century learning environments.

Links:

HELP Team
http://www.educationhelpteam.org