The program was launched last January by the Jefferson County Public Schools--the 93,000student district that encompasses Louisville--with the help of a $500,000, threeyear grant from the U.S. Education Secretary's Fund for Innovation in Education. The evening classes, which are free and meet twice a week for six weeks, are the initiative's key component. The classes are offered at eight public middle schools--up from five last year--and are taught by district teachers. Any Jefferson County middle school student--public, private, or parochial--is eligible for the course, which covers word processing, data bases, spreadsheets, and programming. If a student's parent can't take part, a volunteer from the business community fills in as his or her partner.
NITE school teachers lead the parent-student pairs through the basics first, and then they help them design instructional materials on their own. Participants all use Linkway, a software similar to Apple Computer's Hypercard, which lets users integrate text, graphics, sound, and animation. Officials hope that middle school classrooms will eventually be able to use some of the programs designed by parents and students. One studentparent team in teacher Julie Koch's class at Lassiter Middle School recently produced an instructional program on karate; another produced a "joke book'' program. One parent's end product was a program to teach her children how to do laundry.
Koch and the other NITE school teachers volunteered for the job. All were required to attend 18 hours of inservice training, for which they were paid $8 an hour, to learn about Linkway software and hardware. They earn $12 an hour teaching the parent-student classes. So far, the district has trained 33 NITE teachers, and hopes to raise that number to 48.
Most teachers say they enjoy having both students and their parents in the classroom. "I was intrigued,'' says Beverly Hicks, an 8th grade mathematics teacher at Lassiter, who was among the first to take part in NITE. "As a teacher, you don't often get to see a lot of interaction between parents and students.''
Jefferson County school officials are also enthusiastic about the program and hope it will help them achieve several key goals, the most obvious of which is to make parents and students more computer literate. NITE is the latest move in a seven-year campaign to computerize the Jefferson County schools. Since the beginning of the campaign, the district has gone from no classroom computers to more than 9,000; every school is now computer equipped. Setting up NITE, says Marti Hancock, coordinator of curriculum and technology for the district, "was the next logical step for us.''
Getting parents involved in their children's education is another important goal of the program. "Middle school is traditionally the time when parental support and communication dwindles,'' Hancock says. "The question was, if we offered parents and their middle school children the opportunity to work together, would they take it?''
Many have. Says Joe Bibbert, principal of Robert Frost Middle School, one of the NITE pilot schools: "Moms and dads and children came in together, and not only were they learning about computers, but they were spending time on personal relationships, too. Parents gained a new appreciation for student learning.'' Bibbert hopes the initiative is here to stay. "I'm sold on it,'' he says. "I can honestly say that I have not heard one negative comment about the program.''
Greater parentchild interaction also seems to be boosting the academic per- formance of many participating middle school students. Pat Buckman, for example, has noticed a marked improvement in her son's schoolwork. She says she asked Scott to attend NITE school with her because he seemed bored with school. "It was a major hassle to get him to do his homework,'' she recalls. During the course, Scott began doing his work on one of the program's take-home laptop computers. "The computer class sort of gave me a lift,'' he says. "I started making better grades.'' Buckman was so impressed that, when the class ended, she bought a computer and printer so Scott could continue to do his homework on computer through high school.
The parental participation has also produced one unanticipated benefit: Parents are picking up clues on how to better handle their children by watching how the teachers and students interact. Says Hancock: "Teachers were actually modeling behavior for parents. We saw parents start to use positive reinforcement; we saw them handling their children better. We saw teachers, parents, and children developing communication along different lines than in the past.'' Learning how to nurture that communication is now part of NITE school teacher training.
As a final goal, district officials hope that NITE, by reaching beyond the schools into the community, will help retrain Louisville's labor force for a high-tech economy. There have been some positive signs. Hicks tells of a parent she taught who convinced her employer to switch over to Linkway's database after completing NITE school. Another parent, encouraged because she didn't feel threatened in the NITE school setting, decided to return to school to earn her general equivalency diploma.
Since January, roughly 480 students and parents have gone through NITE school, and, except for the summer session, almost every class has had a waiting list. Bill Wright, a computer inservice teacher for the district who also teaches NITE school, says all the sessions will be filled again this year. Next year, the program will expand from eight to 11 schools.
One of the prerequisites for the grant Jefferson County received to launch NITE was that the program be one other schools and districts could copy. Says Wright: "NITE would be very easy to duplicate. The bottom line is to get parents and students together in an educational setting using technology. If there's a computer lab available, and the principal is behind it, all it involves is opening up the schools.''
For more information about NITE, contact: Marti Hancock, Computer Education Support Unit, Jefferson County Public Schools, 4425 Preston Highway, Louisville, KY 40213; (502) 473-3010.