Stationed thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant Kevin S. Cook is online checking a list of reading materials for his daughter Alexis, a second-grader attending Rockfish Elementary School in Hope Mills, N.C.

He selects a few that he thinks she’ll like, purchases them, and then records his own voice reading the books. Although he can’t be there to read to Alexis in person, he sends a little piece of himself home while serving his country.

This is how just one of the many families in Hope Mills with parents stationed overseas is using Follett Software’s Destiny Library Manager to stay connected. Cumberland County, N.C., is home to Fort Bragg, one of the nation’s largest U.S. Army bases, and the use of browser-based Destiny software has created a unique way of allowing parents serving abroad to stay involved in their children’s education.

Alexis’s taped library from her dad creates an extra connection that bridges the miles during long tours overseas. One of her favorite books is Mercer Mayer’s Just Me and My Dad.

"She usually listens to it right before bed," said Dondra Cook, Alexis’s mom and a teacher at Rockfish Elementary. "That way, her dad gets to read her a bedtime story even when he’s not here."

While making that connection possible, Destiny also has become a homework tool for the Cooks–dad Kevin’s involvement with the software and creating the books on tape encourages and nurtures their children to read more, Dondra said.

"It relieves some of the pressure for the parent at home in a way," she added. "Even though they are not physically there, when the parent who is away takes an active role in the learning process, it ensures that the kids are meeting their reading requirements and doing the necessary homework."

Other families at Rockfish have taken to the software as a great tool for viewing materials that are reading level and age-appropriate for their students, said Carla Brooks, media coordinator at Rockfish Elementary. Brooks’ husband, Master Sergeant James Brooks, recently returned home after serving a 15-month tour in Iraq. The couple’s triplets–Andrew, Samantha, and Michael– are first-graders at the school.

"Some of the soldiers have looked up books to make recommendations to their children attending Rockfish," Brooks said. "A large number of our parents here at home are using the software as well."

Rockfish, with one of the highest circulations of library resources in the district, has shown a wide range of uses for Destiny, including tackling a number of challenges that the school faced prior to implementation.

"One of the value-adds that Destiny provided for this unique school district was to create a channel in which parents at home, as well as those stationed abroad, could be actively involved in their children’s education," said Tom Schenck, president of Follett Software Co. "Destiny Library Manager’s capabilities have facilitated that connection, as well as a number of other needs that the district sought to address."

Bridging the miles

Staying connected with loved ones serving overseas can be complicated; communication channels are limited by location and available technology. For military families accustomed to sporadic contact during deployments, today’s technology has created channels of communication that were unavailable even during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

During the latter part of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, soldiers and their families exchanged tape recordings to hear each other’s voices, according to Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University.

The internet has made that level of contact seem quaint. It first became widely used by soldiers stationed in Kosovo in 2000, he said.

A survey done in 2003 found that three-quarters of the troops in Iraq said they use the internet several times a week, Moskos said. Partly as a result, he said, morale has remained high among soldiers, despite long and repeated deployments.

"We were fortunate enough to be able to talk to my husband via webcam," Brooks said. "But not everyone has that capability. It depends on where the person is stationed."

Smart solutions

More than just the ability to keep parents apprised of their children’s reading, school administrators in Cumberland County saw a need to expand the use teachers and students received from the district’s library resources.

Before implementing Destiny in August 2006, the 88 schools serving more than 53,000 students in the countywide district were using a 20-year-old, site-based library automation system, limiting use to workstations located at the individual libraries. The outdated system limited access to resources and was labor-intensive–a web-based solution was needed to open up access to all of the district’s libraries.

Once the district adopted Destiny, the results were dramatic: Library circulation increased by 30 percent, there was a significant increase in parent participation, an interlibrary loan program was created, and much more.

"Because Destiny is web-based, students can do their research from home and access collections at all 88 schools. That’s revolutionary," said Belinda Cashwell, Cumberland’s director of media services. "Even our parents in Iraq are helping their students do research. Regardless of where their parents are stationed, they can be actively engaged in their child’s learning."

The web-based software provides a familiar technology interface for students, making them more comfortable and more likely to use the library, Schenck added.

Other benefits Destiny has provided to the district include system access from anywhere at any time; a State Standards subscription service that allows users to find materials and web sites that support North Carolina Standard Course of Study objectives; and a TitlePeekz subscription that helps younger students search more effectively by allowing them to look at book covers.

The Destiny Resource Management Solution is a fully integrated system that gives districts and schools the power to manage resources centrally. Districts can choose to implement the system as a whole or select the modules that address their top priorities. The full solution includes Library Manager, Textbook Manager, Asset Manager, and Media Manager.

Links:

Cumberland County Schools

Follett Software Co.

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