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Successful teacher tells peers "Building Your Dream Program" is a realistic goal
April 23, 2004

RALEIGH, NC - Almost a dozen Computer Engineering teachers took advantage of a one-day seminar centering on "Building Your Dream Program" at ExplorNet's Capital Center for Quality Teaching & Learning on Friday, April 23. The event, co-sponsored by Computer Warehouse and Microsoft, also included sessions about Microsoft licensing and products.

The day began with a discussion of what makes a successful Computer Engineering program, from solid curriculum and teacher training to administrative support for hands-on learning opportunities. ExplorNet teachers are encouraged to provide as many 'real world work experiences' as possible for their students, but a number of barriers can make that easier said than done. One participant's experiences illustrate the challenges and the opportunities that go with the territory.

"The first year was a nightmare," says Robin Migliorato of New Bern High School, who is wrapping up her fifth year with the program. "I was asked to take (the program) because I was married to a computer geek. That's it. Not only did I know nothing about it, my administrators didn't know anything about it."

Migliorato says the first two years were a struggle. School technicians didn't want student touching computer equipment, and she wasn't sure about it herself. But after a couple of years of 'limping along', she sat down with her principal and came up with a plan for student tech support. They brought in the Career & Technical Education director and proposed buying kits, instead of factory-built computers, for the CTE classes.

The first year, Migliorato's class built 25 computers from kits, and began performing limited maintenance on some computers in their own school. Migiorato build in strict quality control measures. Teachers with problematic computers filled out work orders detailing the problems, and turned them in to an administrator, who farmed the job out to Computer Engineering or Networking Engineering students as appropriate.

"We determined that we were going to see our CET class as the first line of defense" against technical problems, Migliorato says. "I worked very hard to build a reputation. I never sent students unless I trusted them completely."

And there were plenty of safeguards and quality control measures. Students never had access to passwords or sensitive resources, but they were allowed to fix computers and troubleshoot the network. Work orders were scrupulously filled out and filed away, so there was documentation of all work done and responsibility for getting it done correctly. Students receive performance evaluations, just like they will in the workforce.

"What they get to do is what they would do in the real world," Migliorato says. And some now even get paid to do it after school or during the summer. Three years after her initial meeting with her principal, school system technicians' visits to New Bern High are much less frequent, freeing them up to tackle issues elsewhere in the district.

"It takes a long time and it's a struggle," she says. "There's a lot of butting up against the wall. But it's worth it."

Other participants also spoke of working around the barriers that could have prevented them from providing students hands-on experience. Ron Pendergraft of Cary High School says buy-in from the principal is a real key. Because of Wake County system restrictions, his students can't do much more than set up new computers that are going on the network.

He's gotten around that by getting permission to take some of the system's old computers that would otherwise go to a warehouse. Students clean them up, reformat and reinstall software if necessary, and sell them to at-risk students or others based on a fair market price. Pendergraft looks up similar offerings on eBay to set a reasonable cost. He keeps copious records, but the money raised goes directly back into his own program.

His extra efforts benefit his own students as well as the computer recipients. Still, he says it's not always easy to convey the value of the program to central office administrators. "We're having to go back and justify why we feel the programs are so important."

Another Wake County teacher, Diane Cadavid of Green Hope High, struggles with a lack of resources. She has gotten through her first year of Computer Engineering with little more than a few older computers she got from an ExplorNet donation. Her classroom is ill-equipped, and located in a trailer. Still, she didn't give up and has found a way to give her students troubleshooting experience.

"I made a relationship with the network administrator at the school," she says. Her students are allowed to work on out-of-warranty computers, under supervision. She says that has benefited the students, and sped up response times for the overloaded administrator. "The teachers at my school were very happy that system was in place this year. And it makes my job easier. I can't sit in a class for 90 minutes and teach from a book. I'd fall asleep, and so would they."

Barry Cochran of Guilford County Schools cautions teachers to approach technology staff diplomatically. "There's a good reason those tech guys are paranoid," he says, citing security concerns and the threat of someone else trying to take over their jobs. "Telling them you're there to fix their computers can come across like a slap."

Licensing was another issue discussed by the group, and Microsoft specialists provided some background. Deanna Grammo, mid-Atlantic account manager for Microsoft gave information about the rules regarding PC licenses and Microsoft's Fresh Start program for licensing refurbished computers for charity purposes.

Microsoft's David Norris wowed participants with a presentation of Microsoft Server 2003 and Office 2003 products, including Outlook 2003 and OneNote -- a new application that may prove particularly well-suited to the education environment as an advanced note-taking tool. Drawings for free software and other prizes rounded out the day.


For more information, contact Robin Fred via e-mail at or call him at 888.507.3800.

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