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Jewish World Review March 29, 2001 / 5 Nissan, 5761

France Griggs

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Consumer Reports

Connecting families and teachers online -- A NATIONWIDE computer program lets students and parents look up everything from grades to assignments to the results of a spelling test from home or school, via password.

It's a way to pull busy parents, students and school personnel together and keep them updated, proponents say. And replace the scattered notes and graded test paper clutter of most modern families' lives.

"I view this as the refrigerator of the 21st century," says teacher Cindy Krone of the Starship School computer program that was introduced in her elementary school in Cincinnati in December.

Edventions Inc. of Chicago launched the Starship program in 1999.

It is now in 200 public and private schools across the United States.

Starship is designed for children in grades K-8. It brings together five high-tech tools in one place: e-mail, word processing, Web research, lessons and a bulletin board, and adds a layer of teacher control and complete security for parents.

"There are other elementary school systems but none that are Web-based and don't need a lot of support," said Rich Magid of Edventions. "We've integrated everything from grade book to report card to attendance to learning to communications. We provide the smorgasbord and teachers decide what they want."

Hillary Purcell, 8, and her second grade classmates in Cincinnati have learned to type their spelling sentences on the computer, e-mail them to their teacher for grading and check the computerized bulletin board for classroom updates and assignments.

The work is done on computers in the classroom or at home. But Hillary likes to stay after school to do her work online in the library.

"My favorite part about Starship is probably that it's really easy to do everything," Hillary said while finishing up her spelling work.

No one gets into Starship without a password, which the students in Krone's classroom think is really cool. "No one knows my secret password because then they might get into my files," Hillary said.

Once "inside" the Starship, parents, students and teachers can check the classroom bulletin board to see what's new, check on a child's latest assignments, or start a new homework lesson.

Or they can go to the "Fun Stuff" site where they play games like Asteroids.

They also can do research on the Internet but there's a catch. Access is controlled by a search engine housed in the school district's main office.

Krone likes the way it simplifies research for her young students.

"I know someone at Starship has picked out that website and approved it," she said.

She also likes how it protects her students from unwanted e-mail.

Anytime they receive an e-mail from outside the school's system, it can only be opened by parents. Students can never receive unsolicited e-mail or any e-mail that the parents don't see first.

France Griggs writes for the Cincinnati Post. Comment by clicking here.


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