Computer project involving parents, students is a winner

January 09, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

An Aberdeen assistant principal is the sole Maryland recipient of a $5,000 national education grant to fund a project that encourages parental involvement in their children's education through videotapes and computers.

The 1993-1994 Just Do It Teachers Grants, sponsored by a partnership between the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) and sports manufacturer NIKE, were awarded to secondary and elementary teachers who designed programs that showed the greatest promise for helping students at risk of dropping out of school.

Twenty-four grants, totaling $226,000, were awarded to teachers 15 states.

Nancy J. Feeney, a former second-grade teacher at Bakerfield Elementary and now full-time assistant principal there, opened the school's computer lab before and after school and encouraged parents to come to school and work with their children. The various software programs, purchased with grant money, stress math and reading skills.

"It's gotten off to a slow start," Dr. Feeney admitted. "I've had five parents on a regular basis but am looking forward to more now that the holidays are over."

Her enthusiasm is contagious as she shows a visitor a computer game, "Addition Circus," targeted to first-graders. The goal is to find the sum of a problem each clown is holding before it disappears from the screen.

It's fast, colorful and just what the children are used to, Dr. Feeney said.

"[The programs] are like arcade games," she said. "I needed a hook to get the children interested."

It apparently worked. "It was really funny when [the children] started reaching into their pockets for quarters," she said.

She quickly explained to them that they didn't need money as they do at the video arcade.

One night a week, children show up at the school with a parent in tow to work on the computer games. Moms and dads sit on little chairs next to their children, who giggle, wiggle and frown as they try to pick the correct answer on screen before the purple bad guys chase the green-stick good guys.

It was the first trip to the computer lab last Wednesday for parent Marlene Burmeister, who was having as much fun as her second-grade daughter, Lisa, finding the right vowel sounds.

"I was really afraid of [computers]," Ms. Burmeister said. "[Lisa] likes them a lot, so I thought I'd come and find out what she knows."

Mechanic Robert Coan and his fourth-grade daughter, Roberta, have been regulars since the program began in the fall, he said.

"Some of the problems are complicated, but they still make it fun," said Mr. Coan, as Roberta perched on the edge of her seat concentrating on multiplication factors.

For parents who cannot get to the school, Dr. Feeney bought a camcorder, videotapes and a tripod with the grant money so that she could videotape children as they receive instruction from teachers.

The student then takes the tape home and the parents use it for guidance, she said.

She said most families have access to a videocassette recorder, but if not, the school will lend them one.

NIKE and the NFIE, which was created by the National Education Association in 1969 to advance school improvement, joined forces three years ago to help at-risk students through the teacher grants, said Judy Hodgson, director of external affairs at the NFIE headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Last year, NFIE had received 260 proposals for the grants, she said.

Dr. Feeney's project for Bakerfield, a Chapter 1 school, fit the organization's criterion of programs that would speak to the diversity of students in the classroom today, Ms. Hodgson said.

A school is designated Chapter 1 because of the number of needy students it has, gauged by how many are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Dr. Feeney -- who calls her winning project KAPOC TREE, which is an easier way of referring to its formal title, "Kids and Parents on Computers: Technology Rallying to Encourage Excellence" -- often opens the computer lab at school as early as 7:30 a.m. for "my front-door boys and girls," she said.

These are children who are dropped off at the school and are waiting to eat breakfast in the cafeteria.

To keep them busy, she encourages them to use the software programs. Sometimes there are 11 students in the room, sometimes only one.

She isn't fazed by the number. "It's more than I had before [the grant]," she said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.