When U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige stopped by a Bronx, N.Y., high school Sept. 25, he got a first-hand look at something that many already know: Cablevision Systems Corp.'s "Power to Learn" initiative has affected the educational community in the greater New York area in myriad ways.
As part of his "No Child Left Behind Tour Across America," Paige joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Cablevision president and CEO James Dolan at Samuel Gompers High School to underline the importance of public-private partnerships in reaching out to parents and educators to improve America's schools.
Cablevision has been doing just that through Power to Learn, a multimillion-dollar program established in 1998. Beginning with Long Island's Bayville Intermediate School, the Bethpage, N.Y.-based operator has wired more than 1,300 schools and libraries in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — connecting more than 500,000 students and teachers to the Internet.
The MSO has done much more than make the Web accessible, though. It's developed powertolearn.com, a customizable Internet portal that provides different groups with resources and content that can be used to improve the educational process.
This past September, Cablevision revamped the site, integrating what in effect had been separate areas to better serve its four constituencies — school administrators, teachers, parents and students — from a single starting point. Specific areas allow each group to tap into resources for easy information retrieval.
For facilitating and improving the ties between these groups as they work to enhance overall educational efforts — and a commitment to rolling the program out to more facilities in the years ahead — Cablevision's Power to Learn program receives this year's Multichannel News
Innovator Award for education.
Looking ahead, Cablevision's goal is ambitious: To hook up some 5,000 public and private schools and 500 libraries across the tri-state area.
"Initially, we were just going to work with public schools, but we've upped the ante with private schools and libraries," said content development manager
Evelyn Cruise. "The pace has really accelerated over the past 18 months, and we'll have 1,400 schools wired by year-end. Ultimately, our goal is to get to just about every school in the region."
Catering to constituencies
For participating schools and school districts, logging in to Power to Learn yields an array of educational and communications tools.
Through the Subscription Services application, school administrators can disseminate messages to students and parents, as well as update school caledars of events and announcements. This application provides assistance for school Webmasters, who often must juggle those duties amid regular-period teaching chores.
One of the program's integral goals is to facilitate matters for teachers, who can develop online lesson plans or find materials to supplement their traditional educational tracks.
"We're working toward making teachers' jobs easier. The last thing we wanted to do is add another layer to their busy lives," said Cruise.
To that end, Power to Learn offers two-hour training sessions and online information that shows educators how to navigate the portal to develop lesson plans and other materials needed for instruction.
"Teachers don't have to learn HTML [HyperText Markup Language]," Cruise explained. "They can go right into the system and post automatically."
Power to Learn mines the minds of many employees — some of whom are academics, administrators, teachers and consultants — and melds thinking from all these groups to continuously refresh its offerings.
"One of the most gratifying experiences we have had with Power to Learn came from a professional development session with teachers about a year ago," said Cruise. "They told us that so many sectors don't treat them as professionals. They were so excited and grateful that they were part of our process."
On the home front, the program lets parents check on student homework assignments and grade-assessment rubrics, from their residence or office. For their part, students can access powertolearn.com in school or at home.
For those who don't own a computer, Cablevision is also helping them ford the digital divide via access at libraries.
"We all know that students perform better when parents are included in the homework process," said Cruise. "Powertolearn.com keeps parents in the loop about what their kids are doing and what their teachers expect of them."
Content and curriculum are divided into three levels: elementary, middle and high school. Each contains level-specific content aggregated from accredited education sources.
Search vehicles also let students expand their knowledge base to books, videos and other sites. The "My Bookbag" area enables users to store links to resources and information, which can be retrieved from any computer.
Power to Learn also has real-life applications. At the Web site's "School to Career" section, students can find out about positions and related occupations with the New York City Fire Department, the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, and the New York Liberty — the Cablevision-owned Women's National Basketball Association team — by reading profiles and screening informational videos and slide shows.
Cruise said off-the-court information materialized for students at CES 204 in the South Bronx, in the person of point guard Teresa Weatherspoon, who apprised the kids of 34 attendant career opportunities. "Kids love sports, but they usually don't think beyond the players," said Cruise. "Teresa talked about marketing, public relations, information and event coordination. The Liberty's trainer spoke about athletic rehabilitation opportunities.
"The kids were delighted and so were the parents. For many of them, careers aren't something they think about."
Similarly, the site proffers a "Creative Expressions" section that allows users to explore various aspects of the creative community and gain access to professionals involved in dance, theater, music, writing and visual arts.
"We take pride in the program being a broad-based resource. It's wonderful when we can take something off the Internet and extend it into the community," said Cruise. "It's great to see it touch someone on an individual level."