In a tiny room in the far corner of the C-building at Berkeley High School, a staff of three pedagogues are diligently building a high school within a high school. This school, however, isn’t built from bricks and wood, it’s built in cyberspace.
History teacher Stefan Henryson, Spanish teacher Carolyn Gery and Network Administrator Antonio Castro are happy to wear several hats in order to coordinate Berkeley’s “digital high school,” an instructional network that will serve every one of the school’s 3,200 students and its 200 faculty members.
Working with a $1 million grant from the California Technical Assistance Program, the trio are coordinating – along with some “very dedicated volunteers,” they say – a project that will get the school wired and bring computers to every classroom and instructional space.
Henryson said they aren’t just computers, but “state of the art multi-media workstations” – Macintosh G-4’s or Gateway E-3200’s. There’s about 250 of them altogether.
The three are in the process of bringing up the network, and said they hope to have it running by the end of the month. There are only about three more machines to install, Gery said.
“Students will be able to log-in, have their own databases where they can store their work and create a portfolio. They will also be able to print to a student printer station.” Henryson said. “Teachers will be able to do the same.”
Future filmmakers will also learn how to integrate computer technology with video, said district spokesperson Karen Sarlo. Students who work in the community television station, housed at the school, will be able to use the computers as part of the student productions aired on TV-25.
Henryson said that he had hoped the library could house the print station hub, but last year’s fire damaged the library as well as other parts of the school.
“The fire really changed what were defined as instructional spaces,” he said.
But that hasn’t stopped them from putting the workstations in such places as the Community Theater, the gym and the pool.
“We’ve had to provide additional lab areas as well as making sure every classroom has a computer,” Gery said.
It has been a daunting task, they say, working to bring up an entire network for 3,400 people to use with only three full-time staff members.
Not to mention unloading 500 boxes of equipment and getting the machines set up. And every computer had to be engraved with a serial number and placed and secured on tables, they said.
But they’ve had help.
“A lot of people have come in and contributed,” Henryson said. “Without their help, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Helpers include Paul Monroe, the district-wide technology coordinator, and Mike Miller and Chan Leung, two Berkeley High grads who have spent much of their summer working on the infrastructure of the network, connecting computers and troubleshooting.
“We’ve also got a lot of positive response and help from the community and parents,” Henryson said. “The city even came out for network assistance, which says a lot about Berkeley.”
He added that a number of community members as well as representatives from Apple and Gateway came out when they held a full-day of computer training on August 25.
Henryson said that it was amazing to see the digital gap among the teachers. He said some teachers knew how to set up their own websites, while others were turning on a computer for the first time.
Even more important will be bridging the digital divide that separates students who have computers at home and those with little access.
“We’re all about trying to increase student accessibility,” Gery said. “Our big goal is to create areas with more access. We’re creating additional spaces, and we’re putting more machines into the existing labs and the Student Learning Center.”
Castro, who graduated from Berkeley High and has worked with the school as an instructional technician for 10 years, remembered what it was like just three years ago when there were a paltry 20 machines in the library.
“Most of those weren’t Internet capable,” he said.
Gery said that they have until Feb. 1 to certify completion of the network and meet the benchmarks of the grant, which she says shouldn’t be a problem.
Gery said that one standard is an individual learning plan for every freshman that will be filed in the database. That means over 800 freshman familiarizing themselves with the computers.
“Everyone will also have their own log-in,” she added.
“We’re taking all the paperwork and creating the database,” Henryson sighed, pointing to the sea of freshman files they will transform from paper into computerzed data – soon.