Outside, East Rock Magnet School in New Haven looks like any other school building. But what's happening inside the school is extraordinary.
Students in the school's spacious Technology Media Center sit at clusters of four computers to work diligently on research projects. Reference books and materials are on bookshelves throughout the room. What's immediately apparent is how focused the students are, how absorbed in their work. The computer clusters foster student collaboration yet also allow independent work.
Computers are available throughout the inner-city, K-8 school, with three to four computers in each classroom in grades K through 6 and one computer in each classroom in grades 7 and 8. Each teacher has a computer. Even more significantly, all computers are networked. Students and teachers have easy access to the Internet and computer software. Here is a school where computers are much more than word processors!
Instrumental in the success of the magnet school is Domenic Grignano, technology coordinator and systems engineer. About four years ago, Grignano envisioned an entirely networked school in which technology was incorporated in the classroom. He began holding after-school workshops to instruct teachers on how to use computers. But some teachers found it hard to believe that the dream of a technology-powered school could come true.
A grant from both SNET, the local telephone company, and Prodigy got the ball rolling by providing a program that used e-mail in the curriculum. Improvement in students' writing resulted from the use of e-mail. Starting with that program as a base, Grignano has branched out to work on obtaining a number of grants, including a magnet school grant from the federal government, which have helped make the school what it is. Obtaining such grants is an ongoing job; a grant, for example, from Asante Technologies covered the cost of all the networking hubs, pieces of equipment that connect all the jacks throughout the building.
"The grants were a starting place, but the teachers had to make things happen," said Grignano. "Truthfully, the kids in general pick up new things on the computer faster than the teachers, but the teachers are doing well, too." He estimates that it took about two years to get all faculty members on board with the computer technology.
A walk through the halls and into a few classrooms demonstrates that while technology permeates the school, other evidence of learning and engagement by students abounds.
Various plants fluorish in a greenhouse area near the administrative offices of the school. "Sixth-graders grow these plants, and take care of this area, including our parrot," Grignano explained.
A hallway banner proclaims "The key to excellence: Parents, Teachers, Students."
A large-size television is in every classroom. Students watch Channel One, the news station. Grignano is aware that Channel One has been criticized for including commercials in its news. "They have three minutes of commercials with the news," Grignano said. "Seeing the news is beneficial, students really learn from it, and the three minutes of commercials isn't going to hurt them."
Channel One isn't the only news available to students at the school, though. A staff member and a group of students produce a daily news show broadcast each morning to every classroom via the school's own channel. In addition, the school has its own satellite dish, so students have access to various educational programs.
"We're not using technology as an end-all," Grignano specified. "We're using technology as a tool to reinforce learning that is taking place in the classroom. We keep in mind that the technology is here to help the student learn and help the teacher teach. It's not magic; without them, it won't work.
"And," Grignano continues, "it's a waste of money for a school system to buy computers for every classroom unless there is a full-time technology coordinator in the school."
If a teacher runs into difficulty with a program, or any computer problem, part of Grignano's role is to help solve the problem. "What often happens in other schools is that teachers who aren't computer savvy get discouraged when things go wrong and only use the computer to do what they already know how to do. They don't innovate," Gignano explained.
"I'm here to help teachers use a program," he added. "I'm here to give workshops when something new is being introduced."
A computer network is a group of computers that are linked and can share data, files, programs, information, and resources. Networked computers in a school require installation, supplies, servers, and software to run the networks.
Grignano explained the key advantages of a network in an academic environment:
A computer network in the school has made differences in student attitudes and overall writing ability, according to Grignano. The networking, too, was supported by grant funds.
"Our entire technology has only been in place since last spring, so it's early to look for changes on standardized tests," Grignano said when asked about student scores.
"I can tell you teachers are pleased," he continued, "because of an overall improvement in students' writing, which they attribute partly to writing on the computer."
"Another important outgrowth of having the computer network is the kids' attitude," he said. "You can see the smiles and enthusiasm on the kids' faces while they work."
Domenic Grignano's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Sharon Cromwell
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