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Monday July 26, 1999

"The Dog Ate My Homework" - New Technology Changes the Way Kids and Parents Deal with Homework

By Kate Rauhauser-Smith - York Daily Record Staff

Since time immemorial, children have been going to school, teachers have been assigning homework and dogs have been eating it.

The reasons for late or missing homework are myriad: I missed that day; I lost my notebook; I was sick; my parents are evil aliens from the planet Zotar who plan to conquer Earth by keeping children from achieving high educational accomplishments.

As school systems and communities become larger, building a relationship between school and home becomes more difficult. Teachers often have a hard time getting parents on the phone. Schools find that notes sent home with the students get "lost" frequently. They try mailing of faxing them.

The point remains that teachers and parents are always searching for a better way to communicate about the children.

In this day of instant communication and the information highway, most schools are becoming wired and are plugging in the Internet. Their boards have allotted hundreds of thousands of dollars to add or upgrade technology.

York-based information/software company St. Andrew Development, Inc. designed a computer application called School Link, which they hope will help teachers and parents.

Beginning with this school year, Dover parents and students will be able to check on homework, 24 hours a day. Dover’s homepage will have a hotlink for School Link, where there will be assignments, due dates, and teacher's comments from every class on the student's schedule.

"It’s a tool to bring everyone closer," said Dover Supt. George Severns, Jr. "The more information the parents have, the more they can be in touch with their child."

It is widely held that children whose parents take an active roll in the education process do better.

"Right now, you have to schedule time," said Severns. Parents and teachers try to make busy schedules match and are not always successful. School Link will allow anyone with Internet access to communicate with the teachers via e-mail and vice versa.

This is how it will work: Every student will be assigned a UserID number and a password. By going to Dover’s web page – www.doverk12.pa.us- the student will find a hotlink that will lead directly to School Link. By entering the information, the student will bring up a page from which they can see an overview of all their classes or of all their homework assignments. The course, teacher, assignment summary, assignment details and due date are listed.

Eventually, there will be a place for teacher to enter comments on the student’s progress or unusual activities. The parent will be able to click on the teacher’s e-mail to ask for help with the homework or any problems that seem to be creeping up.

The idea for the program came from the staff at York Catholic High School. They contacted the St. Andrew company in spring 1998 with a proposal for using the Internet to deliver information about school work to parents.

Dover’s school board has been looking for ways to involve parents and the rest of the community with the school district for several years, Severns said. A Dover Township resident who has business connections with St. Andrew suggested Dover might want to be part of the development process.

A group of students was brought in to test the results. Their response: ‘We hate you, Mr. McKee." Francis X. McKee, president of St. Andrew, considers this to be the type of "positive feedback" he wanted.

Computer programs are all well and good, McKee said, but "if they don’t have a real purpose, there’s not much use for them."

School Link has a real purpose in that it will help with the fundamental need for children to understand and complete their homework and for parents to know what their children are doing.

With four children in the Catholic schools in York County, McKee had a personal interest in the development of this particular application. On a family trip to Disney World, he recalls how his son had a neatly written list of homework assignments that needed to be done during the trip. His daughter’s teacher had simply said, "Have a good trip." Or so she said. This turned out to not be the case.

"I have a vested interest in this application." McKee said with a laugh.

Severns of Dover said the board realizes that not all residents have access to the Internet, yet. In order to make it available to every resident of the district, computer stations are planned for public places in the township.

Officials at the York Hospital Annex have agreed to house a station. Severns has visions of the computer terminals in banks, gas stations and convenience stores, as well.

"This (the Internet) is the most revolutionary thing to happen to mankind," McKee said. "School Link makes the most immediate use of the school’s Internet investment."

Severns sees great potential for the district. The district will be offering a "Virtual University" program that will allow students to take college-credit courses. Severns would like to see the idea expanded to include classes for community adults. He believes the School Link could be made to work for such a setup.

Dover, like many schools, is trying to stay on the forefront of what’s available, while watching its dollars. In the end, Severns and McKee agree the challenge is to use what is best for the students and community in the rapidly changing world of technology.

Severns said, "We’re just trying to keep up."


 

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