School Teaching Parents Too

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on June 18, 2000

School officials in Leslie, Ark., know how to draw a crowd: throw open the doors and allow town citizens access to the Internet on about 30 of the schools computers. Standing-room-only attendance practically is guaranteed, says John Gray, principal.

Technology Family Night, held about every two weeks at Leslie Public School in this rural community of about 500, provides something many families in the economically depressed area dont have: a route to the information superhighway.

Its a philosophy that weve put into action, explains Roger Massey, superintendent of the 270-student, K-12 school. Equity of opportunity is the only way were going to make this country work.

Many students dont have access to the Internet and quality software (at home), Gray says. Technology Family Night provides that, but citizens are not limited to those nights. We open the school in the evenings and at other times for them to come in and have accessand to have a fair chance of learning all they can of computers and technology.

Leveling the technology playing field is just a small part of what Leslie Public School, the only school in its district, provides its citizens. Indeed, residents agree the school is the axis on which this town revolves.

Its been that way for a long time, says Massey, who was raised in Leslie, left in 1964, and returned in 1990 to accept the superintendent job. Its the biggest show in town. Nearly everyone hasor hadchildren in the school, and still more residents work there, volunteer, or attend community meetings in the building.

But Technology Family Night, complete with refreshments, is one of the most popular events in this agricultural town located nearly 100 miles north of Little Rock. No formal structure dictates the evening, which usually lasts several hours, Gray says. Everyone just uses common sense and they just share it around, he says.

Computer classes are not provided, but theres plenty of help on hand from two high school students and an adult. If a parent needs to learn how to e-mail, we just show them. If they need to learn to search the Internet or if they want to play with the software, we show them, he says. Whatever they need, we try to provide.

That seems to be Leslie Public Schools motto. When parent Cathy Bayne learned in 1998 that extra programs existed for special needs students and high achievers, but not for the average student, she and two other parents volunteered to teach a character curriculum. Once a month, they visit K-5 classrooms to explain character concepts such as generosity, obedience, gratefulness, and truthfulness. They reinforce the lessons with skits, role playing, songs, and stories, Bayne says. We dont know whether its sinking in or not, but the teachers seem to think that it is, Bayne says with a laugh. What were doing is reminding them more than teaching them. Most kids have a pretty good sense of right and wrong.

The school also serves as the community center in Leslie, whose town square contains a half dozen businesses and whose economy is supported by the timber and cattle industries. We have the best meeting facilities in town, Massey says, noting that the local volunteer fire department held a fund-raiser there. Additionally, long hallways extending from one end of the building to another provide an excellent track for walkers, many of whom are senior citizens. Most walkers use this exercise track after school, though theyre welcome to walk during school hours as well, says Massey.

Leslies former school, long the center of town before the new school was built in 1986, has new life as a stage theater, vocational-technical complex, art center, and museum.

Weve got an actual theater, says Tom McLeod, a longtime Leslie resident and father of two. We have exposure to the world outside of Leslie, Arkansas.

Such activities and resources, combined with the towns community spirit, bring young and older people together, McLeod says. One of the most beautiful things Ive ever seen, he says, is the connection of the young to the older folks.