Last week, Mandarin Middle School students discussed
school cafeteria food, dances and dress codes with middle
schoolers in California; however, neither group traveled
cross country for this face-to-face meeting.
They met via a video teleconference held at Parker Vision,
a Southside manufacturing company that sells video teleconferencing
Using a special video camera, microphones, speakers and
a telephone line, Parker Vision technicians tapped into
an eighth-grade classroom at Cole Middle School, in Lancaster,
Calif., which is north of Los Angeles near the Mojave
Students on both ends laughed and waved to each other
on the two 35-inch monitors before them.
Teachers and Duval County School Board officials piled
into the 20-by-30-foot room on Baymeadows Way to watch about
50 eighth-graders take part in the first video teleconference
involving Duval County students.
"This is unique. I never thought we could do something
like this," said Judy Till, the School Board's coordinator
of Management Information Systems.
Students in both classes disliked their school cafeteria
food, strict dress codes and homework. They also agreed
that friends, sports and dances were the highlights of
Mandarin students seemed fascinated that rural Cole Middle
School had earthquake drills, no lockers, no gymnasium and a
dress code policy that forbids overalls and sports jackets
because they are considered gang-related attire.
"It was fun hearing about what's going on across the
country. I didn't know what to expect," said 13-year-old
Jared Williams of Mandarin. "I'm thankful for what we have
at our school."
Cole students wanted to hear about the Florida weather
For Mandarin student Phil Costa, the meeting destroyed
his preconceived notions about what Californians were
"I thought they'd all be surfers," Costa said. "Turned
out they were just like us."
That was the main purpose of the lesson, according to
eighth-grade teacher Betty Toohey.
The concept is called "distance learning." It allows
students to explore other cultures without the hassles and
cost of travel. Now, it is used mainly by schools in Boston
and California, according to Alex Holtz, marketing director
at Parker Vision.
Holtz said Parker Vision wanted to give area students
a taste of the latest in distance learning.
"It was absurd, really. We are here in Jacksonville manufacturing
the latest technology and our own schools aren't up to speed,"
So, Parker Vision offered the use of its distance learning
conference equipment free-of-charge to Mandarin