California School District Employs Videoconferencing Units for Global Studies

Article excerpt

The result of a merger in the late 1960's of two distinct school districts, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District is almost centrally located between Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena and Anaheim. It consists of 16 elementary schools, six middle schools, four high schools, two adult schools and one preschool, and serves over 25,000 students, with 3,100 employees.

Norwalk consists of an approximately 70-75% Hispanic population) La Mirada is comprised of some 70% non-minority students and 30% Native American and Asian minorities. With this rich mix of culture and ethnicity, the district serves as a paradigm for modern urban schools and the challenge they face: how to educate diverse student bodies from varying socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds in a safe, cost-effective way that inspires learning.

To meet that admirable goal, the district used a $1.4 million grant drawn from desegregation funds administered throughout the State of California Controller's office. The funds paid for the installation of 19 VTEL videoconferencing systems (including the TC1000, TC2000 and Media Max) plus an MCU-II video server to serve the four-mile wide, 12-mile long school district.

The systems, from VTEL Corp. (Austin, TX), feature an Intel-based PC architecture, allowing them to connect to a variety of network options. Through Smart Videoconferencing technology, the camera follows the teacher around the classroom, and notes written on an electronic whiteboard are automatically sent to remote monitors.

Bringing Students Closer

The Norwalk-La Mirada schools have found numerous applications for the systems that bring distant students closer together. "The VTEL systems help our students recognize the value of those cultural differences that make up our world," says Dr. Richard E. Contreras, director of the Global Studies Program. "As a side benefit, technology is occasionally the only tool that makes at-risk students excited about being active learners," he adds.

According to Contreras, videoconferencing supports cooperative student-to-student or student-to-teacher projects at the 3rd through 7th grade levels. Teachers choose team members from various schools based on educational or social criteria. …