Technology for all

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Reform efforts across this city are improving education for children. Now we need to stand tall and affirm our beliefs: A quality educational program needs consistent, fair, equitable and increased funding from all levels of government, city, state and federal.Let’s take technology—very costly to fund. Every school has a different level of commitment to it. Yet, all children should be afforded the opportunity to take advantage of technology’s vast potential for increasing achievement.

At Smyser Elementary School, we committed to technology three years ago when we received a $45,000 grant from the Illinois State Board of Education. Since then, the total has risen to $232,000 as we received additional grants and dipped into both state Chapter 1 and Operations and Maintenance funds. Yet we have barely made a dent in what is needed to integrate technology and computers into the daily lives of our students.

This large amount of money networked the computer lab with three classrooms, purchased 34 computers and provided in-service educational opportunities to teachers. More than 50 percent of the staff have received training on Scholastic Network, PowerPoint, Netscape and e-mail. As a result, teachers have used online lesson plans to teach about weather, taken students on a virtual field trip to Washington, D.C., and used a paper airplane contest to teach measurement and graphing—in this case, of hang time. Next up for teachers is training in lesson plan software.

Meanwhile, students have used e-mail to survey students in Lansing, Ill., about recycling in their community; they then compared the results to Chicago’s experience with Blue Bag Recycling. Students also have used various software to research special projects, including acid rain, endangered species and recycling.

What makes these learning experiences especially powerful is that they have been integrated into the school’s basic curriculum. At Smyser, technology is an integral part of a constructivist classroom, not an add-on.

Twelve additional classrooms will soon be connected to the Internet. However, we now can afford no more than one computer per classroom. What we are aiming for is one computer for every five students, a technology coordinator for every 300 students, network support and plenty of well-trained teachers.

Ask the Consortium on Chicago School Research for the numbers on what parents want most from education. Computer proficiency ranks right at the top. Yet, the equipment most schools have is usually a hodgepodge purchased over the years. Without the proper equipment in classrooms, it’s hard to get teachers “hooked” on computers.

Other areas requiring funding are training for teachers and administrators, electrical upgrades, data lines and software. All of this is very costly, and it is naive of a school to think that its commitment alone can do it. We need the commitment of all officials, local, state and federal. We all say we want children and adults committed to lifelong learning. Well, the computer is the perfect hook.

If the politicians really care about children, they would fund computer labs with the best equipment and place five computers in every classroom. The labs would be open until 9 p.m. and staffed by a computer lab teacher, similar to the playground teacher positions of years ago. We would have “family computing nights” where moms and dads could come and learn how to use a computer with their children.

There is a big surplus of dollars in the state and federal treasuries. Let’s commit it to technology. Eliminate the bureaucracy and administrative red tape and provide block grants directly to the schools for technology. Distribute the money on a per-pupil basis so every child benefits. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t cost that much! Five hundred dollars per pupil would allow us to purchase the hardware, upgrade the wiring, put in data lines, train the staff and hire a tech person.

I call upon everyone to make a commitment to technology and computers. Give us the money, and we’ll do the job. Our students will be better trained and better educated, and test scores will go up.

Jeannie Gallo is principal of Smyser Elementary School in Portage Park.