Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Growing School/home Partnerships: The Family Education Network

Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Growing School/home Partnerships: The Family Education Network

Article excerpt

Editor's note: The single most significant predictor of student success is parental involvement. Networks open new vistas of possibility for nurturing and sustaining vital relationships between home and school, but for those schools that find it difficult to come online, the barriers seem insurmountable. FEN provides an intriguing solution. For all schools, even the technologically advanced, linking parents, teachers, and students is the final frontier. This early report from parents, teachers, and administrators about their experiences with FEN is the first of an ongoing series of features intended to provide you with practical options for strengthening your learning community].

Barbara Davis-school board member, music mom and lover of technology-felt a swell of pride when she saw the 25 band members from her Holbrook, Massachusetts, district perform with 5,000 others on Band Day at the University of Massachusetts. She took some photos, scanned them, and put them up on Holbrook's Web site, so others in the town of 11,000 could sample the experience as well.

That the small Holbrook district (1,400 students, three schools) even has a Web site is partly because of the FamilyEducation Network (FEN), an education information site that also offers free customized Web space for schools to create a parent-to-school connection. aI like FEN because a school system like ours that doesn't have a lot of cash could get Web capability for free," says Davis. "It never would have been an option otherwise, because we have way too many needs."

Notes Holbrook superintendent Malcolm Patterson, "It was a very tangible event that we created this Web page and sent the message that we were serious about technology. This Web site has lifted the image of the district and schools within the community at large." Teachers and school leaders all acknowledge they accomplish only so much in the classroom without engaging parents. FEN provides a new way to do this.

In addition to its support of local school district pages (about 400 districts in 47 states), FEN offers parents online information from toddler concerns to college financing, as well as interactive access to experts in child development. FEN's partners include the National PTA, National School Boards Association, and American Association of School Administrators.

"The Internet is going to become a new kind of dial tone," says FEN's CEO Jonathan Carson. "Our vision is to build a huge public/private partnership so that the whole village IS supporting schools."

FEN's site was named one of the "Best of the Web" by Family PC magazine in 1998, based in part on evaluations from almost 500 parent testers who saw it as a way to connect safely to the world. Says parent Patty A. Schoppe in Land O Lakes, Wisconsin, "Of the 1,650 students in our Northland Pines school district, I would have to guesstimate that only 25-30 percent of them are online at home. We are rural-it's hard to share the museums, the space centers, the art galleries with these eager students, hard to let them dabble. Not any more! Those and more are at their fingertips."

Karen Nathan of FEN adds, "Parents can go into a district's Web site, then visit any school within the district. It is all interconnected, plus [there is] access to the supplemental information and links to state resources. It's a time-saving thing."

FEN's main Web site content is organized around age categories: preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school. An editorial team at FEN develops links and works with content providers like the Council for Basic Education, Education Week, and Children's Hospital.

During parent/teacher conference season, for instance, FEN may features articles on that, or provide targeted quizzes during National Geography Awareness week. The site has covered the Starr Report, kids and Internet privacy, the 1998 election, school safety, and "Why Parents Matter," a reaction to a recent controversial study that said peers matter more. …

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