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McAteer using technology as tool to strengthen ties

October 20, 2011

The Inyo County Office of Education is offering a Latino Outreach program that aims to put computers into homes afflicted by a technology gap that puts many Spanish speaking students at a disadvantage. Photo courtesy

Local educators are offering parents the incentive of free technology to get involved in their child’s academic career.
According to Superintendent Terry McAteer, his office is introducing a new program that provides incentives for Latino families designed to get parents more active with academics and reward those who do with computers or other items that can be used as a family resource.
In the process of improving parental involvement, McAteer also hopes to bridge a growing technology gap and open lines of communication with an at-risk segment of the community.
“When we looked at our parent community, we realized our shortcoming was interaction with families, particularly the Spanish-speaking families,” McAteer said.
The Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Office identified 60 families with students whose parents do not participate in school activities or parent-teacher meetings and sent Latino Outreach Coordinator Raquel Dietrich to meet with them.
Of the 60 families, McAteer said Dietrich has developed a working relationship with almost 40 of them, conducting house calls to meet with parents and discuss how they can get involved with their students’ education.
“All studies show that a more involved parent produces a better student,” McAteer said, adding that the ultimate goal is two-fold: to produce better students, and close what he called a “technology gap” that leaves students at a disadvantage.
“Many low-performing students have a technology gap: they don’t have computers or Internet and they’re falling further behind,” McAteer said. “We want to bridge that gap.”
To accomplish that, Dietrich is giving parents in the 60 identified families criteria that they must complete to receive a reward at the end of the school year. That reward will be a home computer or iPad.
At the house calls, Dietrich discusses the program, giving families seven requirements they must meet to receive the computer.
The first three requirements revolve around the students, ensuring they have no more than nine un-excused absences, that they maintain good grades and do not misbehave at school.
The next three requirements are geared towards the parents, mandating that they attend at least one parent-teacher conference, participate in at least three parent information workshops that cover how and why families should be involved in a student’s school life, and that they volunteer at least twice at the school to develop a relationship with teachers and administrators.
If, by the end of the year, a family completes all six of those requirements, the Inyo County Office of Education will purchase a home computer or iPad for the family and all family members will be required to attend two or three training sessions that will teach everyone in the household how to use the computer and how it can be a resource to students.
“The families have been very receptive to the program,” Dietrich said. “A lot of them don’t know what the Superintendent of School’s Office is or what we do, but once I meet with them, they’re very receptive.”
During the home meetings, Dietrich says she wants to ensure that Spanish-speaking parents know that any time they want to meet with teachers or administrators, or volunteer on campus, that the schools and Superintendent of Schools Office can provide a translator to open lines of communication.
In its first year, McAteer said the Superintendent of Schools Office is targeting Latino families and the language barrier. In the future, he said, he hopes to expand the program to the Native American and Caucasian populations as well.
McAteer said the program is starting with the Spanish speaking community because it is one of the most at-risk groups.
“With the language barrier, some parents think they can’t get involved,” McAteer said. “We can’t have language as the barrier that stops parents from getting involved.”
McAteer said the whole program is being funded directly from the Inyo County Office of Education budget.
“I’ve never seen any (program) like this,” McAteer said. “We’re just two months into it, and already (Dietrich) is having tremendous success.”

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