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Reach Out and Touch Your School

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Parents may soon be able to forego the perennial nighttime question, "What homework do you have?"

If their children attend schools that install a new communication system being tested in Alabama, the answer may be only a phone call away.

Designed by a Vanderbilt University education professor, the system uses both computer software and telephone answering machines to increase parents' understanding of, and involvement in,,3ltheir children's education.

The system created by Jerold Bauch, director of the university's Betty Phillips Center for Parenthood Education, reverses a trend in computerized school-home communication. While previous systems have lacked an interactive capacity and been used primarily to notify parents that their child was not in school, Mr. Bauch's system will convey good news and offer insight into the curriculum.

It has two components--a software package called CompuCall, which can deliver recorded messages and reminders from the school, and answering machines that will give parents access to their child's teacher.

With CompuCall, a teacher or principal can record messages on the school computer, and it will, when programmed with the appropriate names and phone numbers, call the designated parents or students and leave the messages.

The answering machines provide for two-way communication between the individual parent and classroom teacher.

The teacher records daily information about homework assignments and class activities, and parents may leave questions or messages for the,7lteacher to respond to later.

By calling the answering machine, said Mr. Bauch, "parents can find out specifically what is going on in class on a given day."

The system is being tested this year at the Academy for Academics and Arts in Huntsville, Ala., where the response has been enthusiastic.

Joanne Johnson, an office aide at the academy, said that the system not only holds promise for improving parent-teacher communication, but that "in the long run, it will improve communication between students and teachers as well." --jw

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