Many parents complain that they don’t know much about their children’s schools—including whom to contact when they have questions or concerns. What if parents could pick up a cell phone and gain instant access to the website of their children’s school? What information would be helpful to them?
That was the design challenge put to high school students in Union City, New Jersey as part of the Heroes of Technology contest—developed by EDC’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT) and Sprint PCS.
Shing-Mei Lio of Union Hill High School and Juan Ricourt of Emerson High School won the contest, which required students to learn WAP, the wireless application language and confront the design constraints, of a web page no more than five lines long and 15 characters wide.
Lio’s site, designed to provide parents with useful information, included links to important test dates and emergency contact information. Ricourt designed and programmed logos for various school departments, and linked users to departmental information.
“Sprint PCS chose the Union City School District because we wanted to work with high schools that were technologically advanced and we knew that Union City has a great reputation,” said Kathleen Dunleavy of Sprint PCS.
Integrating technology was a key feature of Union City’s system-wide school reform, begun in the mid-1990’s. Working closely with EDC’s CCT and Bell Atlantic, the city networked more than 2,000 computers to link schools, libraries, and teacher and student homes together. Student test scores in this once struggling school district are now among New Jersey’s highest.
With a strong Cuban presence in the city, many of Union City’s students are bilingual or predominantly Spanish-speaking, explained CCT’s Daniel Light, who helped Sprint design the contest. “This contest tapped design and other skills besides a facility with English, which traditional essay contests favor.”
“This was an incentive to push the students a step further,” Light added. WAP is a new technology and isn’t currently taught in the city’s schools, although many students have cellphones and have been quick to adopt wireless technology, he said
Cuban-born New York Yankees pitcher Orlando Hernandez (“El Duque”), presented Lio and Ricourt with $1500 each as well as a Sprint PCS phone and an autographed baseball in bilingual ceremonies held June 4. The contest runners-up each received a PCS phone and an autographed baseball.
Originally published on June 1, 2001