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February 1, 1999
Vol. 56
No. 5

A Tale of Two Schools

Technology can link diverse schools and districts in powerful ways to ensure an equitable education for all.

Most of us believe that all our children should share in the rich, diverse educational opportunities normally available to the small portion of our children who live in wealthy suburbs. But how do we make this equity possible? Here in New Jersey we are transcending physical boundaries by linking schools and school districts in a cyberspace environment—the Cyberspace Regionalization consortium—thanks to sophisticated, interactive technologies now online.

The Consortium

Hunterdon Central Regional High School is a technologically advanced, suburban school in Flemington, New Jersey, on the western edge of the state bordering the Delaware River. The school district enjoys the reputation of this highly successful school, which has received much national recognition in recent years: the Smithsonian Institution award for technology innovation; tributes from Business Week, Time, and Redbook magazines and from PBS television; and the 1996 National Blue Ribbon Award. Back home in New Jersey, the school is the only three-time recipient of the Star School Award, the state's highest honor.
Much of the recognition afforded Hunterdon Central results from intensive staff development training over the past five years. More than 90 percent of Hunterdon Central teachers have taken courses at our own teaching academy, a unique staff development training center whose staff serve as instructors as well as mentors, delivering more than 50 different courses to their colleagues throughout the year. Courses range from basic to highly advanced technology programs, as well as classroom strategies for 21st century instruction. The development of the teaching academy became a district priority when we discovered that the graduate programs for teachers in most colleges and universities had not kept pace with the rapid change at Hunterdon Central. The Hunterdon Academy became the best and most efficient delivery system for practical high-tech and knowledge-valued training.
Asbury Park High School, in contrast, located on the east coast of New Jersey bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, is an urban school that struggles with problems typical of urban areas. It suffers from low test scores, poverty, white flight, and a diminishing tax base.
The other key member of the consortium is Rider University, a technologically advanced private institution in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. The consortium allows Hunterdon Central to provide much needed technological support and staff development to its urban counterpart, Asbury Park High School. Both districts receive additional support from Rider University.

Crucial First Steps

During the summer of 1997, thanks to a major three-year grant from the AT&T Foundation and the AT&T Learning Network, approximately half of Asbury Park's staff were trained to use new technology by teachers from Hunterdon Central's academy for staff development, today known as the Educational Technology Training Center. The training included courses in basic computer use; word processing; and the computer as a teaching tool, as a grading tool, and as a tool for distance learning.
Compaq Computer donated a significant number of computers to Asbury Park. As a result, Asbury Park has gone from having no computers to having more than 200 computers—or the equivalent of one computer for every three students—in less than one year. More important, the ongoing staff training has allowed Asbury Park teachers to bring the technology online in their classrooms at an astonishing pace.
During the 1997–98 school year, training intensified for the Asbury Park staff, with 26 courses offered, including sophisticated programs such as PowerPoint for the classroom, Hyperstudio, Internet use, portfolio assessment, TI-82 and TI-92 graphing calculators for math teachers, advanced word processing, and distance learning strategies.
One exciting objective of this training has already been achieved: Ten Asbury Park teachers now serve as instructors and mentors in the Educational Technology Training Center. We believe that this first step is crucial for Asbury Park to eventually become a self-sufficient, ongoing training site for its own staff. Even more exciting, what took Hunterdon Central five or six years to accomplish, the Asbury Park teachers have absorbed in just two years!

Cyberspace in Action

Advanced technology, such as voice, video, and data transmission used simultaneously with computer monitors connected to interactive service digital network (ISDN) lines and Intel ProShare cameras, has instigated a variety of exciting and important distance learning activities between and among Asbury Park, Hunterdon Central, and Rider University. Those activities include projects in DNA extraction and water quality testing; Science Online magazine; Spanish language exchanges; keypals; a Constitutional Convention; town hall meetings; a Model United Nations; Electric Soup; videoconferences for writing; projects in nutrition, weight management, and human sexuality; and Black History Month, featuring a study of Harlem Renaissance poets. Professors from Rider University often critique the students' work online.

Curriculum Integration

But to see how this consortium works, let's examine how an English poetry class serves as the catalyst for an online magazine. After a videoconference between the schools, a lively interactive session involving numerous students develops about the electronic manuscripts. The collaborative pieces are then turned over to student editors of Electric Soup, the literary online magazine at Hunterdon Central, to be published on the school's Web site. The student editors and writers at Hunterdon Central in turn teach the Asbury Park students about the editorial process of soliciting, selecting, and editing the manuscripts. The mentors from Rider University also critique some of the work and make revisions online.
This is the first step in an ongoing process in which Hunterdon Central students lead interactive Internet publishing training for Asbury Park student editors and writers. The goal is for Asbury Park students to learn electronic publishing skills so that they can create their own electronic magazines on their Internet site.
In addition, the two schools develop interdisciplinary projects. For instance, English and history students at both schools collaborate in celebrating Black History Month. Students write poetry, and in videoconferences, they share poems from the Harlem Renaissance. Students then write original poems on the basis of their cultural experiences, followed by an interactive discussion. The project culminates in the submission of the best manuscripts to the online literary collaboration of the two schools.
The cultural aspects of the partnership may be as important as the academic. Ninety-five percent of the Asbury Park students are African American; in contrast, 95 percent of the students at Hunterdon Central are Caucasian. The selection of poetry and manuscript topics—and the critiques of those topics—is clearly influenced by the students' backgrounds. Each group is learning about the cultures, values, and feelings of the other.
In science, students at Hunterdon Central and Asbury Park discuss submissions to an online chemistry magazine, SOL. A group of Hunterdon Central biology students discuss the procedure for posting on the Web site the results of Internet research that they have conducted with Asbury Park students. They also videoconference with a professor from Rider University for content clarification. Students at both high schools use laptops to create spreadsheets and graphs on the water samples taken from the Hunterdon Central campus lake and the Atlantic Ocean, adjacent to Asbury Park. Each group transmits, reviews, and analyzes the results.
In social studies, students from Hunterdon Central and Asbury Park expect to revisit history of the 1780s as New Jersey delegates to the Constitutional Congress. They are e-mailing their issue positions to delegates in other states. When the online Congress convenes, delegates will debate the positions of each state. Meanwhile, another group of Hunterdon Central and Asbury Park students has gained access to the holdings of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to research prejudice. Later, they will consult with experts and incorporate these opinions in their final research document. They will prepare a multimedia presentation on the findings and share it over the Internet. In most of these activities, students' only travel takes place through cyberspace.
Asbury Park students are now experiencing the same level of academic rigor available to students in their counterpart suburban district. As for Hunterdon Central students, they are gaining a new awareness and appreciation of their urban neighbors, sharing in one another's cultural diversity, and recognizing the socioeconomic differences that influence equality and equity. Teachers in both districts interact with students from both schools to broaden opportunities for all. None of this would have been possible without careful training and appropriate implementation of instruction to integrate technology in a cyberspace environment.

Lessons Learned

Although we still have much to learn and accomplish, our results to date are worth sharing.
The most important lesson that we have learned is that low-achieving schools, when linked to high-achieving districts, can improve staff and student development dramatically. Thanks to new technologies, we can jump-start a struggling district in ways that we never before imagined.
Another lesson is that underachieving schools should not feel that they must go it alone or link up with other less technologically proficient districts. Asbury Park High School could not have progressed so dramatically by using the typical approach in New Jersey, which links special need, low-tech schools to one another.
Asbury Park High School also learned the importance of establishing ongoing staff development and sustaining that training all year. Asbury Park now realizes the value of released time for teacher training. For example, a math teacher trained to use a TI-82 or TI-92 graphing calculator opens up a whole new world to trigonometry or calculus students who previously might have been overwhelmed, confused, or bored by the subject. These technologies also lead to improved test scores on some standardized tests.
With available technology, urban students also have access to the same courses as suburban students. Online Internet delivery now allows Asbury Park students to take courses taught by Hunterdon Central teachers. Rider University will offer a college-credit, Internet-based course to students at both schools during the spring 1999 semester. These courses give equal opportunities to students at opposite ends of the demographic spectrum. Once piloted, these opportunities should continue to expand.
Another lesson is that as more and more advanced technologies reach the classroom, projects such as our Cyberspace Regionalization partnership are not overly expensive. As a matter of fact, delivering voice, video, and data right over the computer is now possible at a much lower cost than present instructional TV (ITV) classrooms. Flexibility and portability are other benefits—the configuration and link-up can come from any room or site as opposed to a dedicated host room in the traditional ITV setting.

Opportunities for All

Only through innovative initiatives such as our partnership will we eventually create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill among schools and schools districts, which is so essential to the future success of U.S. public schools. We can never realize true equity as long as we maintain age-old barriers predicated on district lines, home rule, and prejudice. We hope our Cyberspace Regionalization consortium will inspire diverse districts to work together to narrow achievement gaps. Cyberspace learning creates opportunities to achieve parity for all our children.

Raymond P. Farley has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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