Project Tomorrow (formerly known as NetDay) would like you to know that the information and links on this page may be outdated.

A Technology Bridge Builds Two-way Access
to School and Home

May 2002

Costa Mesa, California -- In order to improve literacy rates and prepare students for the future, Rea Elementary created a Technology Academy that provides access in the classroom, and free donated computers for home use.

"We're bridging the divide and expanding the school into the home," said 6th Grade Teacher Jenith Mishne. When schools build a bridge to the home, parents use it to better connect with the school and improve their child's learning. In the case of Rea Elementary, the home computer project has connected teachers with parents and made them feel more welcome at the school. The computers give parents a chance to learn along with their children at home and at school through adult literacy and computer classes.

Learning Technology Everywhere
Students in the Tech Academy experience a rich learning environment in the classroom and now they have access to many of those tools from home as well. Each classroom has Smart Boards, five to six computers, two printers and access to a laptop cart when needed. Teachers deliver assignments through email and communicate in English and Spanish with both students and parents through a portal.

Making computers available and useful in homes required community involvement and support. The corporate office for the bank Washington Mutual donated older computers and the Orange County Technology Foundation came through with donations to purchase upgrades. TechCorps volunteers worked with teachers to rebuild the computers and load software for home use. NetDay helped market the computer pickup event where and the school trained parents to setup and use computers before they brought them home. Each parent signed a contract with the school.

The Last Mile
"Even though we went through a detailed orientation," said Mishne, "parents got the computers home and didn't know how to set them up. We had to get into the homes. I'm clocking 65 hours of home visits in the last month."

Mishne and the other teachers spend afternoons, evenings, and weekends visiting their students' homes to show parents how to sign up for an Internet account. They suggest using low-cost Internet Service Providers that allow users to bill their telephone accounts because many people did not have credit cards. They walk them through the setup screens and show them bilingual and Spanish-language sites to get them started.

Technology Advantage for Impoverished School
Rea Elementary School has 780 students in grades fourth through sixth. All of the students receive free and reduced lunches and 95 percent are Hispanic. When they graduate from Rea, they join students from more affluent neighborhoods at the middle school. The Technology Academy began as a pilot program and has approximately 180 students. Using advanced technology in learning gives these students an edge.

"When they leave Rea, they go to a school where they are a complete minority," says Mishne. "Now, they go there with more skills than any of their peers, and it boosts their self esteem. A teacher called and said, 'I can't believe how advanced your students are."

While Mishne appreciates the compliment to her students, she would like to see an upgrade at the middle school so that they can continue their learning. Currently, the school must take back the loaned home computers when students graduate to distribute them to other families.

Connection Fosters Communication
Mishne knows that her time is well spent, because she can see the changes in parents as well as students. Many parents did not feel welcome in the school because of their difficulty communicating in English. When she went to their homes, the experience was very different.
"You get a whole different feeling," she said. "They cook food and welcome you into their home. I got my car washed! Once the computer is in the home, they ask, 'When is the class?' There is such a great interest. They want to learn."

As a result of the home computer program, more parents have come to the Adult Education afterschool classes to find out more about computers and improve their language skills. They have also purchased printers and, in some, cases new computers.

The Link to Literacy
According to Mishne, the parents' involvement matters: "The bottom line is if parents are literate, children will be. A lot of our parents are at a 6th grade level. To our students, their parents are doing fine. If they don't see the increase in their own parents, they lack motivation to learn. Plus, you can have parents work more closely with students."

The Tech Academy leaders at Rea learned a lot during their first year and waited until the second year to conduct assessment and expand to the home. As the second academic year of the Academy comes to a close, they will conduct a post-assessment to determine the impact on reading and math skills. Mishne is optimistic about the outcome: "When you put a computer in the home, the parents want to become literate."