School Volunteer Program

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Academy News, volume 1, number 1, September, 1996

The History of the Parent Academy System

editorial by Dr. Alfred Giovetti

School administrators are now examining and contemplating where to go with the new technology. The decision seems to have gotten stuck in the examination phase. Everyone seems to be afraid of which way to turn, because things are changing so quickly, and it is easy to make a mistake.

The problem also lies in the way bureaucracies operate. They examine an issue for a very long time. They check out all the possible choices and they make the best decision based upon much research and analysis. Then once a technology implementation is decided on, the whole thing is put out for a bid.

This process often takes years. But technology is changing rapidly. Six months ago Bill Gates said that the speed of the computer processor and the storage capacity of hard drives is doubling every eighteen months. Today, these things are happening every 9 to 15 months. By the time the old bureaucratic methods of equipment selection are finished, the items purchased are already obsolete.

In an environment of change it takes courage to make a decision, especially when many within the system are just sitting on their hands, waiting for you to make a mistake. Pouncing on the courageous decisions of others is often safer than making your own decisions. In Baltimore, a new idea has been implemented with the cooperation of the city government and a local company named Academy Concepts.

For the past twelve months, Academy Concepts has taken advantage of two new technologies in a special program within the Baltimore City School system. Video conferencing and the Internet have been used together, as a tool to put parents in the forefront of the new technologies as a resource for their children and the educators. This new system excites, gives hope, and restores confidence in everyone involved.

The first implementation was to provide video conferencing and internet services over plain old telephone service (POTS), a feat that some companies are just now getting around to providing (Intel is just introducing their desktop video conferencing over POTS lines). This system was up and running in the Baltimore school system with parents talking and sharing ideas and resources across the miles separating the schools.

The internet provided the means for research and a window into the world at large. Video conferencing allows face-to-face instant communications with all the nuances added to communication effectiveness by facial expression and the sharing of applications simultaneously over the computer console. Video conferencing has the added bonus of saving the time, effort, and expense of traveling all over the city for meetings and conferences, which now are as convenient and time saving as turning on the computer.

About six months ago, Academy Concepts decided to upgrade the systems in the schools at no additional cost to them, and without any contractual obligation to four times faster communications through Integrated Services Digital Network or ISDN. At the same time Academy concepts upgraded the current hardware from 120 MHz 486 machines with 15 inch monitors and 10 frame per second, quarter screen video conferencing up to 166 MHz Pentium systems with 17 inch monitors and up to 22 frames per second, full-screen Intel video conferencing.

These new systems also implemented multi-point technology that allows currently up to eight sites (soon to expand to over 40 sites) to video conference simultaneously, giving these parent centers the ability to provide live distance learning to multiple sites simultaneously. At any time the same system can be used to communicate as live town meetings and two-way distance presentations to large groups in multiple locations. All using the on-demand telephone technology provided by ISDN.

Academy Concepts did not just put this equipment into the schools and walk away. They have provided the proper nurturing support to insure that is technology will be used and used effectively. Personal hands-on instruction, as well as distance learning with the equipment itself, is provided on a daily basis to all nine of the Academy Concepts locations. Courses and training in keyboarding, internet research, and word processing have provided parents with the skills and confidence to be real assets to their children and the faculty in the schools and communities they now support.

Soon to be implemented programs include web page construction, and other hard ware and software training that will make these teams even more effective as agents of principals in the inner city school systems. Parent Academy and the city of Baltimore should be applauded for their continued effort and courage to be the first with the technologies needed to carry the children and their parents into the future.

Parent Academy Video Conferencing Schools and Principals:
- Brenda Nichols, Staff Associate, Office of Monitoring and Compliance.
- Sylvia Peters, Director, Community Building in Parnership.
- City Springs Elementary #8 - Bernice Welchel.
- Robert W. Coleman Elementary #142 - Addie Johnson.
- George Washington Elementary #22 - Florence Johnson.
- George G. Kelson Elementary #157 - Angie McCullum.
- Arundel Elementary #164 - Lydia Lafferty.
- Cherry Hill Elementary #159 - Geraldine Smallwood.
- Patapsco Elementary #163 - Yvonne Howard.
- William Pinderhughes Elementary #28 - Sylvia Cothorn.
- Gilmore Elementary #107 - Phoebe Shorter.

The future is worldwide video conferencing and all other types of Internet access.

Hats off to Dr. Walter Amprey, Superintendent of Baltimore City Public Schools, Brenda Nichols with Title I Parent Resource Center of Baltimre City Public Schools, Sylvia Peters with Community Building and Partnership and the principals from Parent Academy's nine schools.

Through this video conferencing network we are preparing our students, teachers, and parents for the 21st century.


Joseph Jones, Director

3816 Woodbine Avenue

Baltimore, Maryland 21207

(410) 879-2920