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Teacher Mentors Sought To Make Technology Links

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Washington

With a united voice but no new money to offer, a group of education and business organizations asked teachers last week to help each other become skilled in using technology.

The sponsors of the 21st Century Teachers Initiative hope to recruit 100,000 technologically proficient teachers nationwide. The idea is that each of those educators will help five colleagues who are technology novices, thus creating an army of more than half a million teachers capable of helping their students surf the Internet or navigate CD-roms.

Since President Clinton announced the project in May, about 4,000 teachers have registered at its World Wide Web site, organizers said.

The 20 sponsoring groups and companies--led by the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National School Boards Association--have also agreed to promote the project.

But notably absent from the pep rally here last week was an announcement of new money to support the mentoring project.

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the NSBA, said at the event that as the voluntary effort spreads "faster than a virus," local school boards might increase funding for teacher training.

The project's backers also hope for additional support from corporate sponsors and local school partners.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said greater emphasis on training was essential, because other projects such as NetDay--the public-private partnership to recruit volunteers to wire classrooms for access to the Internet--"mean nothing without teacher skills."

Both the mentoring project and NetDay are gaining wide support for similar reasons, said Linda G. Roberts, Mr. Riley's adviser on education technology. Just as NetDay's "electronic barn-raising" metaphor struck a chord among the general public, the image of teachers helping teachers "is something that can capture the public's imagination," she said in an interview.

In previous efforts, Ms. Roberts said, "technology was something for a few kids, a few teachers, a special place in the school," Ms. Roberts said.

She remarked that the 21st Century project's Web site also invites students, parents, and community members to sign up, although their role is not specified.

A Stamp of Approval

Ms. Roberts also praised the project because "it supports teachers who are technologically literate," rather than those who resist innovation.

Julie Revilla, a 5th grade teacher in the Prince William County, Va., schools, said the project "is going to make people feel like they're a part of something--you feel like you have a stake in it."

Ms. Revilla, a third-year teacher who helped design her district's technology training program, has signed up to be a mentor. She said she is sure she will have enough time to take five colleagues under her wing. Mentoring is a "natural" activity that teachers do anyway, she said.

But, she added, a shortage of computers and Internet hookups at Vaughan Elementary School will make mentoring difficult until more computers are installed next year.

Teacher training experts agree that mentoring by knowledgeable colleagues is a valuable supplement to in-service training.

"They learn faster when they see how it's done and then go back to their classrooms and implement it," said Jenelle Leonard, the supervisor for instructional technology in Prince William County.

But she underscored the need for formal training and skilled support staff. "Mentors tend to teach what they do well," she said, and might have crucial gaps in their own knowledge.

The initiative's Web address is http://www.21ct.org.

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