Schools' Weave Web Sites into Education: Internet Pages Used to Reach Students

Article excerpt

This Friday they're serving cheese pizza for lunch at all Fairfax County public schools. It's posted on the World Wide Web - www.fcps.k12.va.us.

So is a book review by young Mike Rodriguez of Roberto Clemente Middle School in Montgomery County. Here's an excerpt from his take on Robert Louis Stevenson's `Kidnapped': "On a scale of one to 10, I would give this book a six because its text was a little confusing. I would recommend this book if you're the kind of kid who likes action and suspense." - www.mcps.k12.md.us.

The Web also makes it hard for students to fib to parents about when their homework is supposed to be turned in.

"A parent can verify when an assignment is due by getting on the Web and looking at that teacher's Web page," said Susan Latour, curator of the Web site at Fairfax County's West Springfield High School.

Individual schools, linked to the school system's main Web page, have seen interest in the Web soar.

During the summer lull in July, electronic visitors to West Springfield High School's Web site were making 500 hits a week, scoring a hit every time their curiosity led them to open a new file.

One hit for the school menu, for example. One hit when they next turned to the School Board agenda. And so on. Now, with school well under way, the site is visited 500 to 600 times per day, Mrs. Latour said.

"We're just staggered by the amount of interest," said Mrs. Latour, an English teacher who is one of two teachers who maintain the school's Web site. "We knew that our Web site was pretty good, but we were amazed by the volume."

In Montgomery County, where a school Web site counter tracks the number of daily visitors, about 2,100 people take a look at the Web site per day.

On Monday, visitors made 768 hits per hour - by 10:30 a.m., when most people have only been up for about three hours.

In 1995, only about 1,000 public schools had Web sites. By July 1998, more than 8,841 schools in the United States had them, according to Web66, an international school-Web site registry run by the University of Minnesota.

While a steady percentage of visitors come from inside the school systems, Renee LaFond-Cautilli, a Web management technician for Fairfax County schools, isn't surprised by the overall increase in Web traffic.

"When we first started our Web site [in 1996], I'd get comments like `Hey, this is cool.' Now, we get comments like `Where is it?' The expectation has changed, and I think people are using it more than they did even a year ago," Mrs. LaFond-Cautilli said.

The information on the Web is not only for students. Parents use it, too. At Mosby Woods Elementary in Fairfax, parents were saved a trip to the school to get a list of fall class supplies, principal Laura Shibles said. "[They] got the list right off our Web site."

They can also get a pretty fair overview of issues facing their school systems. School board agendas are posted ahead of time and, later, the minutes of the meeting are posted on the Web.

Pete Schaefer, who maintains the Web site for Prince George's County schools said it's good for parents and students to check the Web sites well before they apply to colleges. Last year, when his daughter was applying, he found a Web site devoted to college scholarships.

From that one Web site, "we found 30 scholarships that she was eligible for," Mr. Schaefer said. "Imagine students who don't have that." He linked that Web site to the one he runs in Prince George's County.

The school sites are also visited by people in other countries, several Web masters said. "We got e-mail from a family in Japan who was moving into the area," Mrs. Latour said. "They wanted their daughter to take a class in Japanese and they found out from our Web site that we teach that class."

Loudoun County also gets Web hits from parents in other countries who may be relocating, said Jeremy Lasich, who maintains the Web site for Loudoun County schools. …