Internet Pioneer Has School Curriculum Plan

The Cambridge, Mass., company goes beyond donations to make information technology part of the lesson plan

Corporate involvement in grade school education rarely extends beyond free Internet access and free PCs.

But one of the original developers of the Internet is going a step further to make information technology part of the education process. Bolt, Beranek and Newman Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., has developed the Co-NECT School.

The program attempts to change the curriculum of students in grades K-12. BBN is working with teachers and school administrators to design a project-based curriculum supported by an open, computer-based communications network. The program has been adopted in 15 schools in five U.S. cities. Each school is given BBN's Internet Server, a system that allows a school or district to manage its own Internet services, from electronic mail to news groups to World Wide Web pages. BBN designs, installs and manages the integrated voice, data and video networks placed in schools.

Students use the equipment and the connection to create meaningful products such as interactive science exhibits, books, reports, video programs and plays. BBN says that by supporting the restructured school community, the open, computer-based communications system connects every student and teacher and extends communication beyond the school.

"Our vested interest is to achieve maximum and value-added results, regardless of the hardware and software that is being utilized," said Bruce Goldberg, project director of the Co-NECT School program. Goldberg served as an education consultant to the BellSouth Foundation and the National Alliance of Business.

The Co-NECT program, established in 1992, is one of the seven school designs commissioned by the New American Schools Development Corp. to create a new generation of American schools. NASDC was founded in 1991 by corporate leaders who wanted to reform U.S. public schools. Fueled by $50 million in grants, NASDC provides funding and support to design teams working in 147 schools in 18 states. NASDC has contributed $2 million a year in the last four years to curriculum redesign programs in the United States.

The Co-NECT program requires $25,000 to $80,000 per year, which includes 30 days of professional development each year, personal attention from a support team headed by a Co-NECT field representative, consultation with members of the Co-NECT design team and involvement in teleconferences. BBN also offers membership in the Co-NECT Exchange -- an Internet-based information service, electronic forum and support tool -- and Co-NECT Critical Friends, a program of reciprocal school visits.

Carol Shilinsky, principal of the Accelerated Learning Laboratory, a K-12 magnet school in Worcester, Mass., says preliminary studies proved that the school's 600 students had dramatic improvements on their test scores.

"Technology is the most powerful learning tool I have ever witnessed," said Shilinsky. "Kids are learning it faster than we [teachers] are."

When the program first started, BBN partnered with Apple Computer, the Massachusetts Corporation for Education Telecommunications, Boston College, Lotus Notes and EarthWatch. The program now works with a group that provides curriculum consulting, including Boston College, EarthWatch and the University of Michigan.

The program is currently running in schools in Dade County, Fla.; Worcester, Mass.; Juneau, Alaska; Memphis, Tenn.; and Cincinnati, Ohio. According to Goldberg, the company is currently negotiating with Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Seattle. Each area has at least three schools participating in the program.

BBN estimates that it takes three to five years to completely redesign a school. The most significant changes occur in the first year. The remaining years are spent reinforcing, refining and building capacity.

The $196 million company specializing in Internet service has been involved with education initiatives since the 1960s. BBN is one of the original developers of the ARPAnet, which spawned the Internet.

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