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New Video System Helps Transitioning Students Solve Problems 'Face-to-Face'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2002 – The Military Child Education Coalition is testing a new video communications system that helps high school staffs solve potential problems before students arrive at a new school.

Called the Interactive Counseling Center, the system is a full-featured, self-contained interactive video conferencing system that provides secure, real-time communications and record sharing. It allows guidance counselors, teachers, parents and students see each other on a computer monitor as they work out details of children transitioning from one school to another.

The system is being tested at 10 schools throughout the nation. Ten more systems will be installed in the Cumberland County School District that surrounds Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, N.C., during the week of Oct. 7. Coalition officials expect to have systems installed in more than 30 school districts across the country by the end of March 2003.

The aim is to have the systems in all schools that service military-connected children and eventually in Department of Defense Education Activity school overseas.

Also called a "virtual counseling center," the system consists of a computer, monitor, color printer, scanner and speakers. It's an easier and faster tool that helps educators make compassionate and reasonable decisions for children without endangering standards, according to MCEC officials.

The system removes the distance barrier, according to MCEC officials. It allows interaction between the student and counselors at the sending and receiving schools. All concerned can share information and forward records directly. Differences in curriculum or academic requirements can be foreseen and resolved prior to the student's transfer.

Here's how it works: ICC systems at the sending and receiving schools are connected to each other using a standard Internet connection. Documents can be scanned, saved on the unit and shared among all video-conferencing parties. The "whiteboard" program allows users to highlight and draw on the document.

Tabatha Robinson was fascinated by the system when she saw a demonstration at the MCEC conference in San Antonio in August.

"Can the schools that receive the transcripts via the system use them as official transcripts?" asked Robinson, the school liaison officer for the military community at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, N.J. "If it does work that way, that would be a really good thing for our schools to have because it saves time."

Faxed transcripts are only a temporary record.

"You can see what classes the students need and they can ask any questions they have," Robinson said. "All schools should have this system because it would save a lot of time and help recognize and solve potential problems quickly."

Steve Adams, a technician at the demonstration said the system is a "cost- effective and convenient way for counselors to get in touch with one another and work out details. If you're stuck with strictly audio stuff like telephones calls or fax machines it's difficult to develop an understanding of a difficult topic because of the different ways people interpret things."

Adams said just because someone sends somebody a fax doesn't mean the person who receives the fax saw the footnote at the bottom of the page. "It might have been cut off in the machine and you may not know there was ever a problem," he noted.

"Seeing someone's facial expressions helps in understanding a conversation, which can't be done on a telephone," Adams said. The system runs around $5,000 per unit.

Tenth grade counselor Belinda Juarez of Copperas Cove (Texas) High School was pleased with the way the system works after participating in a recent practice session with Shoemaker High School in Killeen, Texas, and Westover High School in Fayetteville, N.C.

"It's a very exciting tool," Juarez exclaimed. "It's incredible and something that I never thought I'd see. It's a perfect opportunity for students to feel a little bit more comfortable knowing where they're going to and being able to see one or two people on the screen. For the receiving school, it's an excellent opportunity for them to make some kind of connection."

Counselors can use the ICC to help them get "creative in accepting credits for another school," Juarez noted.

"Credits are a big issue with transferring students," she emphasized. "We always try to do what's best for the child so they don't lose credit. They also want to know if we offer the same classes as they have at their current school. Sometimes they're not offered, but we try to get them as close as we can to a class that's similar."

For example, she said, if a student is transferring from Washington, D.C., to a school in Killeen, Texas, the student can sit in front of an ICC screen and discuss the move with counselors, teachers and other students.

"The process is very simple," Juarez said. "Somebody coming in from Washington can call us and make an appointment. They can ask that someone, perhaps a senior counselor or a sophomore or junior counselor, be available at a certain time on a certain day. They can say, 'I'd like to meet the counselor and also speak to another junior or senior student so I can ask them some questions.'"

She said parents could do the same thing. Another big problem during transitions is the timely transfer of school records. "We can discuss the student's records, scan the transcript and within three to four seconds, the receiving school would have the same copy at their end," Juarez noted.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBelinda Juarez practices with the Interactive Counseling Center system. Juarez, a 10th grade counselor at Copperas Cove, Texas, said the system is an exciting tool that helps solve problems before a new students arrive. Photo by Carolyn Taylor  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLia Price, right, of Price Video Productions, Victory, Texas, shows Tabatha Robinson how the Interactive Counseling Center works during a demonstration at the Military Child Education Coalition conference in San Antonio in August. Robinson is the school liaison officer for the military community at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, N.J. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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