It only takes one parent

by Alan Zisman (c) 2001. First published in Vancouver Computes, September 2001

Hillary Clinton has suggested that it takes a village to raise a child. In some cases, it only takes one parent to raise a school?at least, to raise a school?s use of computer technology.

Take East Vancouver parent, Conrad Lew, for example. Lew has two elementary-school aged children, currently attending Vancouver?s Hastings Elementary, an inner-city school not far from the PNE. He first decided to become involved with their school when his eldest daughter was in Grade 2 at Tillicum Elementary, Hasting?s K-4 annex.

He noticed that while there were computers in Tillicum?s classrooms, they were old, and didn?t seem to be used much. Lew checked with the teachers, and was told that they weren?t very comfortable with the mix of old hardware and besides, there wasn?t much in the way of software.

Lew went to Tillicum?s Parent?s Advisory Committee. Parents asked around, and were able to get an offer of a donation of newer old computer from local advertising firm Bryant, Fulton, and Shee. Checking around the neighbourhood, Lew made contact with local computer retailer, Nantron Systems, who offered to donate the labour to upgrade these systems, if the PAC raised funds to pay for parts.

Recognizing the need for staff training, the PAC paid to send one of Tillicum?s teachers to a conference on the educational use of computers. Her enthusiasm when she returned was contagious, infecting her colleagues. Now, the cluster of computers in Tillicum?s library is a focus of activity.

As Lew?s children moved over to the main school, his focus shifted as well. Once again, he worked together with the school administration and teachers, and the Parent?s Advisory Committee. Problems with their existing computer systems had produced frustration at Hastings; once again, Lew worked with the school to take stock of what they had and where they wanted to go.

PAC donations of computers for the library were matched with school funds, and recently, additional computers were donated by the City of Vancouver. The school has added Internet access for students in portable classrooms. And using a server built by Nantron Systems, the school is experimenting with Windows 2000 Advanced Server terminal services. This will allow them to use the server to run modern software on older systems. Lew suggests that Hastings is now near the point where technology will be pervasive?available throughout the school.

Lew has expanded his interests beyond computers in schools. He realized that technology is a tool for helping to build student literacy, and has become interested in broader issues of literacy., and how student learning is affected by the atmosphere at home.

The result has been to work with the family literacy program at Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, open to all family members, not just school-age children. Recently, Lew was appointed as a parent member to the Vancouver School Board?s Family Literacy Steering Committee.

Having grown up in Vancouver?s East Side, Lew understands that it isn?t always easy for parents to get involved with their children?s school. As well, he knows that when he was younger, he was more interested in building his career than in connecting with his community. He points out that parents wanting to give something back can start by getting involved in specific projects that don?t need to become too intense or demanding.

His advice:

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan