Volume 6, Number 3, 1997

Partnership connects
schools to Internet

Sanford Zoological Park reads the sign outside the Sanford Lower School in Hockessin, Del. Open the door and you're in the midst of a spectacular aviary. Rainbow-colored birds perch on thin poles, while others "fly" overhead or rest nearby in their brown-twig homes.

A large sign in the center of the hallway directs visitors to the pond, animals, bears, snakes and petting zoo. Straight ahead is the primate house, where chimps and monkeys of all varieties swing on vines overhead.

All these animals were crafted by the schoolchildren out of paper, cloth and clay, but could that screeching sound from down the hall be a real chimpanzee?

Actually, it is. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and assistance from the University of Delaware, Sanford's kindergartners can see and hear the chimp in its natural habitat in the Kibale Forest of Uganda.

Sanford is just one of seven private schools in the state that have realized their goal of Internet access, thanks to the University's three-year-old Network Partnership Program. The others are Tower Hill, Wilmington Friends, Archmere Academy, St. Andrew's and St. Mark's in Wilmington and Wesley College in Dover. In addition, the Partnership Program has assisted the Hagley Museum, the Newark Senior Center and the city of Newark.

Since September, Sanford School has been wired to the Internet, and students and teachers there are finding it enhances the curriculum in countless ways. Today, the students are trying to distinguish among a gorilla, a monkey and a chimp purely by the sounds each animal makes.

"It re-energizes me and the other teachers," says Elizabeth Schultheis, director of technology at Sanford. "Access to the Internet helps us keep current and makes classroom projects more real world."

"The state is wiring all public schools in Delaware," explains Leila Lyons, director of user services in UD's Information Technologies unit. "The University saw a need to help private schools and other public service organizations stay in step with what is happening in the public schools. Through our program, these organizations gain the direction and expertise needed to implement Internet access for themselves."

In trips through cyberspace, Sanford youngsters have visited zoos from Chicago to Singapore and learned how zoos differ in other countries. Third graders researching snakes and spiders have found the Internet to be a fertile source of information, and other classes have visited "The Bug Club" online. In science class, Sanford third graders are using the Internet to access the JASON Project, an online curriculum with accompanying satellite television lessons that allows students to see scientists at work all over the globe.

At Wilmington Friends School, "use of the Internet has blossomed incredibly" since the school came online in September, according to Gregg Miller, AS '87, computer department head. Teachers in all subject areas bring their classes to the computer room to do research. Most students and faculty use e-mail frequently, too.

"The University's Network Partnership Program was extremely helpful in setting up our Internet system," Miller says. "I couldn't have done it without them." Like most computer specialists at elementary and secondary schools, Miller is by necessity a generalist, teaching classes in addition to his computing responsibilities.

"We found that these schools were ready to take the plunge into Internet access," Carol Jarom, an information resources consultant at UD, explains, "but they weren't sure how to proceed." By sharing its technical expertise, the University helps the schools make wise decisions about hardware purchases and system configuration and provides direction on how to become an Internet domain (the registration with an Internet provider that's necessary for any Internet access), as well as on setting up e-mail and planning a web server, which will allow the schools to host their own web sites. University staff members also train the computing staff at the schools in system administration and desktop client support.

Schultheis praises the help the University gave to Sanford School. "They helped us to decide where to run fiber-optic cables to link our computers in different buildings. They even supervised the installation. Their advice helped us save money in wise ways," she says. "They not only provided us with access but, more importantly, they also advanced our levels of expertise. Because of their mentoring, I'm now at a whole new skill level."

The University stresses that the program is a "partnership." Participants are expected to share their newly acquired knowledge with others and to help future participants establish Internet programs in their institutions. When a new school comes on board, Internet veterans at the other schools are there to provide direction and solutions to common problems.

Although the schools pay all hardware costs and monthly connection fees, the University allows them to connect to its existing Switched Multi-Megabit Data Service (SMDS) network, greatly lowering their monthly costs, according to Dan Grim, executive director of UD's network and systems services in Information Technologies. The schools piggyback on the University's Internet service, thus avoiding a yearly connectivity charge that can run into tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, they pay a "bulk rate" per year for access to the University's Internet provider, a bargain at one-quarter the going rate for such service. The University's buying power even enables the schools to get discounts on some hardware purchases.

The Network Partnership Program has proved invaluable to Delaware private schools as they navigate the numerous technical and procedural obstacles to gaining web access. For the University, free technical advice like this only makes sense. "We're educators working to help other educators better prepare students for today's challenges," says Susan Foster, vice president for information technologies.

To learn more about the Network Partnership Program, contact http://www.udel.edu/educ/ np.html

-Theresa Medoff, AS '94M