EDUCATION (March/April 2002)
Teaching Arkansas Children Well
ELAINE, ARK., is in the heart of Mississippi Delta country, where the land is made lush by the nearby river. It is also in one of the poorest counties in the United States. Storefronts are abandoned and crumbling. There is no movie theater or public library, not even a McDonald´s. The schools, most dating back to the days of segregation, have leaky roofs, broken windows and antiquated computer equipment-Apple IIe´s and old DOS systems. For the last couple of years, half the students have scored in the 25th percentile on standardized tests.
David Fetterman´s job is to bring the world to them.
Fetterman, a consulting professor of education at Stanford, last fall completed the first phase of a program designed to boost the technology skills of students and administrators in the state´s distressed school districts. Working with Charity Smith, assistant director of the Arkansas Department of Education, Fetterman spent two days in Little Rock training students to conduct web searches, create home pages and set up videoconferences. His aim is to develop a cadre of students who can return to their districts and teach those same skills to instructors and administrators, who could then provide virtual classroom offerings in subjects not available in the schools.
For Fetterman, MA ´77, MA ´79, PhD ´81, the contrast between Silicon Valley´s tech-savvy students and those from rural Arkansas was stark. "They´ve never been out of the town they are in," Fetterman says of his Arkansas pupils. Through the lens of a webcam, he led them to the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and the ruins of the World Trade Center. "This was a big trip for them. Their eyes were wide open."
The 15 students chosen for the program weren´t necessarily the top students from each school, but all are interested in technology. Smith believes that having the kids train the adults will ensure follow-through. "Unless there is a catalyst on campus to continuously get involved in these things, they won´t always happen," she says.
Fetterman will return to Arkansas each month this spring to reconnect with the first group of students and administrators. He plans to start with a fresh crop next fall. He is also working with a Stanford PhD student, Carrie Penner, MA ´97, to raise money for improving equipment and infrastructure.
Fetterman thinks the project already is producing results. One student trained last fall said that until he learned to use the Internet, he had no idea what lay beyond his little town. "Is this what you teach in college?" he asked Fetterman. When the professor said yes, the young man responded: "Then I am going."
Stanford Magazine March/April 2002, p. 28