Seeing students gather for a class is not unusual in Brownwood schools, but the one that convened last week has to be described as somewhat unique.
Brownwood High School senior Courtney Mann was joined by BHS Principal Bill Faircloth, Assistant Superintendent Jeana Moss and Superintendent Dr. Sue Jones for a Web teleconference Thursday afternoon to celebrate the conclusion of an international study project and watch two key educators involved in the effort — including Mann’s teacher — receive Harvard University awards.
As part of an Advanced Placement psychology class taken in the fall semester of 2006 from one of the honorees, Mann participated in a project involving students from the Roskilde Business College in Roskilde, Denmark, and the Oratory Athenaeum School for University Preparation in Pharr, Texas. The course is not available to Brownwood students unless they take it through distance learning.
The project’s purpose was to strengthen competencies in personal, cultural, communications, technology and language areas among participants, according to Linda B. Gillis, Texas Virtual School coordinator based at Region 4 of the Texas Education Service Center in Houston. Gillis presided over the teleconference.
“Courtney did an outstanding job and is a major part of our project,” Gillis said.
“It was a collaboration that examined difference aspects of cultures,” Mann said of the international project after the ceremony closed. “We divided into teams to look at specific aspects of our cultures, and I was teamed with three or four students from Denmark. Our focus was on holidays.”
Mann said the project was conducted entirely over the Web, and the teleconference was the first time any of the students and educators involved had the opportunity to see each other beyond still photographs. The Denmark students did not participate in the conference, but they did visit Pharr in January.
Mann was specifically praised for her work by her online teacher, Alicia Rackers of Sierra Vista, Ariz., who taught the course through the Texas Virtual School.
“Courtney is such a dynamic student,” Rackers said. “It was such a pleasure to work with you, and I’m excited to finally see you face to face — sort of.
“Courtney showed a remarkable ability to communicate and work effectively with students who she never met in a face-to-face setting. Courtney was an extraordinary student who was a delight to teach and a credit to her school, family and community,” Rackers said.
The students and educators located in teleconferencing classrooms in Brownwood, Pharr, Houston and Arizona were linked through the Web, and the 45-minute ceremony was conducted on a split-screen monitor. A separate screen showed the local group what the others were seeing from their site.
The Texas Virtual School describes itself as a Web-based learning initiative designed to meet the needs of Texas public school students and educators. Its mission is to provide extended and flexible learning opportunities for secondary students and educators through web-based programs. TVS is a joint effort between Region 4 Education Service Center and 12 other Education Service Centers throughout Texas, including Region 15 of San Angelo which extends to Brown County.
Rackers was honored as a recipient of the Harvard Prize Book Award, bestowed by Harvard University through a member of the Harvard alumni community to “a teacher who has the attributes of a great secondary-school educator.” Dr. Nichols Grimes, president and Leader Prize Book program chair for the university’s San Antonio alumni club, made the presentation during the teleconference.
Father Jos/ Losoya, C.O., assistant principal and a Certified Web instructor at the Oratory Athenaeum School, also received the Prize Book Award from Harvard for his work that included being project sponsor at the Pharr campus.
During the ceremony, Brownwood ISD was praised for striving to bring excellence to its students by offering online Advanced Placement coursework.
“The Texas Virtual School project has been a great addition to our course offerings,” Faircloth said. “Students are able to go beyond the classrooms of a mid-sized community in Texas and interact and compete with students in a global world.”
Mann, who plans to attend The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., after high school graduation, said she and students in Denmark chose holidays their counterparts observe in their nations for research.
“They studied our Fourth of July, and I researched their Solstice celebration,” Mann said. “We did research on the other nation’s holiday, and then exchanged what we had discovered. Then we compared what we had found from other sources with how the students said those holidays are really observed.”
The holiday, an event as popular as Christmas in much of Scandinavia, celebrates the summer solstice, or the start of the summer season.
“We learned a lot about our nations’ cultures and traditions,” Mann said.
The entire project was accomplished through e-mail and other text communications, she said.