By JESSICA HULETT
Capital News Service
LANSING – A new program spearheaded by House Speaker Rick Johnson could expand statewide the technology already used in Cadillac Area Public Schools.
The program was announced and is sponsored by Johnson, R-LeRoy, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins and Michigan Virtual University President David Spencer.
This fall, demonstration grants of up to $2 million each will be awarded to five Michigan school districts to help schools around the state achieve portable computing technology and Internet access.
“We have a lot of technology in Cadillac schools; we would look at the grant to upgrade us and to have the ability to keep students on task beyond the school day,” said Superintendent Fred Carroll. “It ties in with another program we have called Life Span.”
Life Span, used in two Cadillac elementary schools, allows students to take laptop computers home to do homework assignments such as reading and math.
“It really expands the school day, whether it’s a project they are excited about or just an assignment,” Carroll said.
A diverse group of schools is being sought, geographically and otherwise. Johnson’s communication specialist, Emily Gerkin, said that one of the five schools chosen must be in the Upper Peninsula.
“We don’t want all four to be in the Detroit area,” she said. “We don’t want all the schools to be affluent. We want to see if it works in each different environment so neighboring schools can see how it works.”
Cadillac also uses a grant program called E2020. Students who have trouble coming back to school, such as those who have medical problems, have dropped out, are pregnant or have a small child, would have a computer in their homes on which they could see class lessons, do assignments and take exams. A camera watches the student over the computer.
“We’ve had extreme success with this type of flexibility,” Carroll said. “We’ve been using it for four years and we’ve had about 25 students use it per semester.”
Johnson first found E2020 used in the Pine River schools, where he attended school and served on the school board. Soon after it was taken to the Cadillac Intermediate School District.
“That’s what really opened my eyes to computer education,” Johnson said. “They (Pine River) were showing me how students in band, who can have difficulty getting into classes, can come at the noon hour, check out a unit and take the class.
“It’s not about just computers, it’s about the next tool they’re going to use in the classroom.”
Because the program uses laptop computers, the costs stay down. More computer labs do not have to be built in schools. Also, because the system is wireless, all computers in a classroom will receive Internet access by one port, eliminating the need for more wires. Software saves money on new textbooks and the ability to e-mail assignments to teachers eliminates paper.
Schools can apply for the Learning Without Limits grant online at http://wireless.mivu.org and www.LearningWithoutLimitsMI.org. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Oct. 8.
Officials hope to announce the schools by the middle of October. The goal after that is to have the hardware delivered to the schools in November and December, train the teachers on the equipment by January and have the schools running by second semester. They will be evaluated at the end of second semester by the Department of Education.
“The goal is to add more and more schools each year,” Gerkin said. “It will cost more and more money, but one of Speaker Johnson’s favorite sayings is that when they decided to build the Mackinac Bridge, they didn’t sit around talking about the cost, or it wouldn’t have been built.”
Ten additional grants for $100,000 each will be available through the application process for schools to begin technological advancement.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By JESSICA HULETT