Living the Vision
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2004
Laura Reasoner Jones reports on the progress of her school system's initiative to make techonology accessible to every child.
Jones, L.R. (2004). Living the vision. Teacher Leaders Network diaries. Retrieved from the Teacher Leaders Network 10 Apr 2008. Link: http://www.teacherleaders.org/old_site/diaries/LRJ05.html
Living the Vision
It is 7:15 PM on a dark wintry night. I have been here at work since 6:30 a.m. and the parent meeting is just beginning. I am sitting at a sticky table in a too-brightly-lit elementary school cafeteria that smells of fish fingers and Tater-Tots, listening to a Parent Liaison use rapid Spanish to explain to parents how to fill out forms to join the local Credit Union.
All of a sudden, at the end of the room at another table, there is applause and laughter. A parent, a young pregnant mother, stands up and walks around the table shaking hands with every person there. There are loud rapid congratulations in Spanish and more handshakes and hugs, and she turns to leave. I look at the Parent Liaison stationed at my table and ask "What just happened?"
She smiles and says, "She is the first one—the first one to buy the computer." And I realize this is really going to happen! We are actually going to start to end the digital divide for our kids and families. We are going to realize the vision!
A year ago at this time, I was still settling into my new technology job, trying to figure out how to make my and my boss' visions real. I was very unsure of my place in the scheme of things and trying to figure out how to make this whole thing happen—to establish or increase home computer and Internet use in our very needy neighborhood of schools and to increase teacher use and integration of technology. I was a wreck. It is hard to take someone else's vision and make it happen, with no money and little interest from the participating schools.
But a year has passed, and we—my boss, the eight schools and I—are a long way down the road to achieving that vision, and it feels pretty good. We have passed some fairly significant milestones, hit some heart-stopping roadblocks, and generally seen success. And I feel like we have made a difference for many people.
This is what I said last year:
I firmly believe that I, as one of the many people working on this project, can 'make happen' one of the primary goals: every family in the high-poverty schools we serve will have computer and Internet access in one form or another. I can see it: families using the available community resources – the libraries, the schools, and the community centers.
I can see families being taught how to use the Internet, learning how to find resources to help their children and accessing the schools' Web sites for information about their children. I can see the community agencies learning how to navigate our Web sites in the 145 languages my school system sees. I can see families purchasing or receiving low-cost laptops through innovative funding programs we create. I can see this happening because we are going to make it happen.
And this is where we are now:
• As part of our project, we sent 26 teachers and tech specialists to NECC, the national technology conference, by far the most that any division of this school system has ever sent. And how did that make a difference? Those teachers had never attended a national conference before. They brought back ideas and resources and became active members of their schools' tech committees; they wrote grants to purchase the cool equipment they saw demonstrated at NECC, and they went back to school for more training in the integration of technology.
• We did baseline surveys of all of the teachers and principals in the eight schools, finding out what their technology skills and attitudes were, and the instructional needs that we could help with. For the very first time, we asked three key questions:
What is hard for you to teach?
What is hard for the students to learn?
What kinds of instructional technology would support your goals in helping your students achieve academically?
We shared that information with the curriculum offices, requesting help and support for our teachers so that they could continue to improve student learning.
And we began to give them the tools necessary to help them improve.
• I went out into the community and met with every single community organization that serves our students with computers—the libraries, the community centers, the Computer Clubhouses, the anti-gang neighborhood groups, and the churches. I talked about our project, and provided them with the resources to help our students and their parents when they visit, including simplified and translated instructions for accessing our Blackboard community. These brief meetings impacted a huge group of people, and stunned the librarians who had never known how to even show parents how to find the Blackboard log-in page when they came in to ask for help.
• And we began our home computer purchase plan. Oh my, what a vision, and what an experience!
We began by partnering with the local credit union, which offered two-year interest-free loans to anyone, parent or staff member, who opened a checking account and arranged for direct withdrawal of the loan payment. This was huge. Financial literacy and banking for a large group of people who have never used a bank—access to mortgages and car loans, credit cards, checking and savings accounts—all the banking services that we take for granted.
Then I arranged multiple conference calls with different computer companies to figure out who could give our parents and staff the best deal. My goal was to get the monthly payments down to a level that a high school student could afford. One of the largest computer companies really stepped up to help us, continually reworking the four configurations until they met our technical specifications and price points.
• We held a parent/staff Computer Fair, where we demonstrated the computers for sale, hosted national vendors and multiple local community resources, and had a gym full of teachers demonstrating how they use technology in school and what parents could do at home. It was so crowded that we had to have police directing traffic and it was an unqualified success.
But with all of that, and other milestones and successes, it has not been an easy journey to the vision.
• The whole project was sold wrong. At the beginning of the project, the very day I started this job, teachers and principals were promised more technology equipment for their schools. That is just not going to happen. They are angry and frustrated with the disparity in our schools, and they need someone to blame.
• We are competing with our own success—national foundations take one look at our school system's name on grant applications, and toss them into the wastebasket, knowing that this county has a median household income of more than twice the national average. People can't imagine that there is any poverty here, even though my group of eight schools has more than 70% of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
• When we asked for discounted Internet services for our families, we were turned down flat by one of the large cable Internet providers, who said "We do not need any more business in that part of the county."
We still have a long way to go. We have only sold about 150 computers through our partnership with the credit union and the national computer company. But we have sold countless more laptops and desktops through the staff/parent purchase plan. And we have increased the amount of in-school and after-school Blackboard use dramatically, indicating that staff and families are beginning to access the multiple resources that we provide. We have provided well-attended parent classes in using a home computer for all schools, helping families to learn to use their new computers safely.
So, the vision continues to expand. We have begun exploring the impact of new and emerging technologies on our students, trying to assess the educational impact of the vast array of social networking and digital creation tools available to them. And in the coming year, we need to increase both the amount and the quality of technology use in our schools, getting new equipment supported by quality training so that our teachers can use new purchases effectively. And we need to continue to support families in their exploration of technology, so that the vision of widespread home computer and Internet access becomes a reality for all of our kids.
My boss' vision has become my own, with my own perspectives and passions layered over the original plans. I am proud of our work this year, and I look forward to the next school year, bringing more and more families into the world of home technology use, and thereby leveling the playing field a little.
I want to be there again when the room breaks into applause, and a young mother leaves the school with her head held high, knowing she has made an investment in her child's future.