|Cleveland teachers in four inner-city elementary schools are finding it a lot easier to help students learn reading and writing through an Internet-based newspaper, developed by Acme Express Inc., a local software development company and a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Educational Research and Improvement.
The project is a result of months of brainstorming by a task force of educators and government and business leaders from Cleveland's Empowerment Zone who wanted to utilize local technology and community resources to help improve student performance. Another goal was to introduce children to the Internet and have their work published in a manner that would not only bring them much satisfaction, but show parents exactly what their children were learning.
Don Scipione, president of Acme Express, became involved with the project through a local development corporation, and then became an active member of the task force, which conceptualized the children's Internet newspaper. Acme already had experience with putting editorial content online because of their contract with an on-line sports magazine, and with the help of a $90,000 grant from Microsoft, they were able to implement the technology necessary for each school to be able to publish on the Web. Acme Express provided four two-hour training sessions for teachers who were going to participate in this project. Various materials, including an Internet definition guide, training manuals and a contract for student Internet use were given to the teachers by Acme. Phase II of the Internet newspaper project will work to reduce the costs of this on-site training (which was approximately $4,000 per school), by offering Internet delivered training.
"What we really wanted was a way to involve the community in bringing technology to the schools," Scipione says, adding that through Internet visibility the children's work could be recognized by their peers and family, helping their self-esteem and motivation to learn.
The four schools participating in the Internet newspaper projects are Charles Orr, Giddings, Louis Pasteur and Miles Standish. Acme Express technicians as well as some education majors from John Carroll University conducted initial setup and testing of the publishing software. The software is used not only by teachers but by students as well. Twenty-four students are participating in Phase I of the project: six in the third grade, six in the fourth, and six in each of the two fifth grades. The children enter their articles, title them, write a short abstract and choose keywords that would describe their piece. The software then translates everything for them and makes it readable online. This kind of method offers immediate gratification for the students since they know their work can be seen instantaneously by whoever logs onto the site.
Kay Smith, principal at Louis Pasteur Elementary finds the project very successful in that it helps children work in pairs and enhances their proficiency scores. (At Louis Pasteur the fourth graders are involved in the Internet newspaper.) "Kids take ownership to this project," Smith notes, adding that she plans to expand the Internet newspaper to include special education students.
The Internet newspaper site, located at www.ClevelandSchools.net, has a frequently updated archive of the various students' writings, which include book reviews, profiles, weather stories and commentaries. The links page features resources for both students and teachers and yet another page has a lengthy explanation of the Internet newspaper project - its beginnings, who is involved, and how other schools can participate as a partner in this challenging endeavor.
Mark Dreyer, a fifth grade teacher at Miles Standish Elementary, feels the Internet newspaper project gives the students a better understanding of sentence structure and teaches editing skills that will help them in the future. "It's a great way to communicate and another way to inform parents," Dreyer says.
In Phase II of the Internet newspaper project, which Scipione estimates will cost about $250,000 to implement, the newspaper will be expanded to other schools in the Cleveland area. Currently, Scipione and school administration at all four elementary schools are busy writing grant proposals to keep the Internet newspaper project going.
Juanita Willis, Principal at Charles Orr Elementary wants the Internet newspaper project to be expanded not only in her school but also throughout the district. The children participating in the project at Charles Orr have exhibited great enthusiasm and incentive, she says, thanks to exposure to the Internet newspaper. "It has opened up a new world for them," Willis says, noting that often the children would come to school earlier just to make sure they were on time to start work on their paper. Willis also mentioned a visit from a school administrator in California who wanted to see how the program was implemented at Charles Orr, in order to initiate something similar in California's elementary school system.
An awards ceremony honoring the students who participated in Phase I will be held at Acme Express on May 19. Those involved hope that the grant money will allow other students to experience the Internet newspaper project in Phase II and perhaps spread the program throughout the city of Cleveland, giving all elementary school-aged children a chance to explore the world of the Internet and help make grammar, sentence structure and paragraph writing a little more exciting.
Although the key to the success of this program is funding, according to Scipione it's the children's writing and initiative that are the most important. "It's a reflection of the community," he says. "It's worth reading."