Hard-won computer skills pay off for teacher

April 11, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Mary Ellen McNamara braved a new world three years ago when she returned to her job as a Howard County school system media specialist.

The filing system and index cards she knew before leaving to raise her children were on their way out. A newfangled system of micro-chips and processors was on its way in.

"I was shocked," said Mrs. McNamara, who works at Elkridge Elementary School and had never used a computer. "I came back in 10 years, and I had another job."

She spent long hours at work and invested in her own MacIntosh computer. Now, she's won a statewide award for being the media specialist who best uses computers to train teachers and educate students.

Thanks to her know-how -- as well as Board of Education money earmarked to Elkridge to update technology equipment -- her school has one of the system's most complete collections of computers, software and other supplies.

The school's teachers and students are using computers more than ever before. Teachers can access the worldwide Internet information system and flip through an encyclopedia via six CD-Rom drives. Students in grades three through five study keyboarding on the computers, while first- and second-graders use software called EZ Logo to learn shapes and programming.

Last month, the Maryland Instructional Computer Coordinators Association picked Mrs. McNamara for its 1994 Maryland Computer Educator Award, which recognizes educators who have made exemplary contributions to teaching Maryland students and teachers how to use computers.

Mrs. McNamara's principal, Mary Jane Mitchell, nominated her for the award.

"I thought she was very deserving," Ms. Mitchell said. "She just really took it upon herself to train herself and find out as much as she could about computers. It was a really big job she did, and she did it without complaint or expectation of recognition."

The school system's computer resource teacher, Shelly Day, noted Mrs. McNamara's perseverance.

"She just dedicated herself to learning computers," she said. "She's gotten the teachers to use them. She's gotten everybody to use them, too. She motivates people so much."

Mrs. McNamara is a bit shy about the attention she's received. She she was just doing her job.

"I guess [I won] because I was willing to learn new things within the last two years," she said. "The secret is reading the manuals. It helps. There are a lot of tricks in there."

Mrs. McNamara heads the school's computer committee and sits on the county's Media Advisory Technology committee. She said the staff's commitment to learning about computers and setting up a lab for students made her job easier.

The school has 30 MacIntosh LC computers, a handful of high-tech printers, and now has mini-computer labs in all of its teaching pods.

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