By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Native Kansas Citian Kari O’Rourke knows how hot and sticky it can a hometown summer can be and she had an idea to make it a fun learning experience for 14 children. She devised, designed and directed eJourn, a writing and computer camp that ran from June 20 through July 14. The participants were students from Our Lady of Angels and Holy Cross Schools. The day camp was held in the lower level of the Catholic Center in downtown Kansas City.
eJourn students were recommended by their school principals. Mary Delac and Jean Ferrara were given application packets and instructed to select incoming sixth, seventh and eighth grade students they considered appropriate for the camp. The camp’s end goal was for the students to become seed leaders of eJournalism clubs at their schools this fall.
eJourn taught the kids about writing and gave them some hands on experience using Adobe computer tools including Photoshop, Illustrator, In-Design and DreamWeaver. Students wrote a short story about an unforgettable person, place or thing. Topics the students chose included Superman, Mexico, Kansas City, a brown puppy, Las Vegas, Holy Cross School, a boycott of McDonalds and several others. iPhD candidate educators and several college students worked with them to turn their stories into animated Web presentations. During the course of the month-long camp, the kids also learned how to ask questions and how to best present themselves. The culmination of the camp — the students and their parents were to be honored at a presentation banquet at the UMKC administrative center on July 14. They were to present their projects, meet students and administrative staff, and receive a certificate from the university for their work.
O’Rourke, an iPhD candidate at UMKC, is working toward her interdisciplinary doctorate in Educational Leadership, Policy and Foundations and Curriculum and Instruction. She is an E-Rate and technology consultant to schools and works with economically disadvantaged families in both private and public K-12 schools. Her work includes planning and designing integrated technology curricula tailored to meet the “needs and demands of 21st century learning structures in multicultural environments,” she said.
O’Rourke said the idea for eJourn grew out of the E-Rate funding the Strong City/Central City Catholic schools have received over the past 5 years. The E-rate program, directed by the Federal Communications Commission, provides discounts to help U.S. schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications and access the Internet. She contacted the Catholic Schools Office, and through them reached Julie Creech and Jason Buice of the diocesan Management Information Systems department. Creech and Buice aided O’Rourke in setting up the computer work stations in an easily secured area of The Catholic Center.
The students arrived at The Catholic Center just after noon each Monday through Thursday of the camp. Volunteer host families brought in lunch for the kids and stayed to act as mentors for them during the camp. Guest speakers were scheduled to teach the students. One speaker, a Blue Springs High School English teacher, held a writing seminar to work with the kids on their stories.
They trooped as a group to the nearby Central Library and the Teen Librarian showed them ways to research and access information. Each student was asked to complete a library card application before the camp’s start, even if they already had a card, and the librarian arranged for new cards with new PIN numbers to be issued to them.
O’Rourke was conscious of the fact that the kids in her charge for four or five hours every afternoon were kids and that safety for them was very important. For that reason, to log onto the Internet and in communications that might be read by anyone, the students were given a password name to use during eJourn. A volunteer selected 12 male and 12 female saints’ names and the students picked their own password. They could shorten or personalize the name if they liked (St. Francis Xavier became Frank and St. Bernadette became Mary Bernadette), but that is how they were identified during the camp. In addition, O’Rourke said, all the adults working with eJourn students were required to attend a Protecting God’s Children workshop before the camp started.
O’Rourke has worked with the poor and underserved for a long time. “I was born at Linwood and Prospect (St. Joseph’s hospital),” she said, “and Catholic educated through my undergrad degree in Kansas City and St. Mary’s (now the University of St. Mary) in Leavenworth, Kan. I have been involved in numerous volunteer projects in the Kansas City area including the Peace and Justice Office Food and Hunger Task Force with the late Benedictine Sister Mary Alice Guilfoil (the Benedictines have been tremendous mentors for me), Christmas in October, and Crosslines, a Kansas City, Kan.-based outreach group geared to fighting poverty.”
She holds a Masters in Business degree, but, “my passion is working with the poor,” she continued. “My involvement in education stems from my commitment to the poor — the only real way out of poverty is through education.” She hopes to complete her iPhD dissertation by spring 2013.
The technology plan for the diocesan schools includes the integration of technology into the daily curriculum, O’Rourke said. “Each school now has a very high-tech infrastructure and they have been adding computers and laptops in the classrooms to take advantage of it.”
However, the eJourn students may not have access to a computer at home so donors were sought to supply computers, monitors, and a server. Our Lady of Angels School had received a large donation of used computers from a local company, and its principal Mary Delac was willing to donated 14 computers to the eJourn students. At the camp’s conclusion, each of the students was to take home a computer to continue the “Journ-ey,” or learning process. A server was donated by another school, and 30-day trial software was installed by a volunteer. “We really are on a shoestring budget,” O’Rourke chuckled. “But it’s working out. And the kids are fantastic! They are learning to speak a little computerese, and ask questions using proper terms. And Flash, Illustrator and Photoshop are a lot of fun, to learn and to use.”
O’Rourke has a dream of integrating technology into teaching. “My vision,” she said, “which has evolved out of discussions with principals, parents and other interested individuals, is to design project based learning opportunities for the students that will engage the use of technology seamlessly into the teaching moment — i.e. the kids will use the devices as a natural part of the activity. I have called the learning opportunities “Java Cafe” — informal learning spaces.”
The eJourn students are expected to go back to their schools and become the starting members of Journalism Clubs at each school. O’Rourke anticipates that they will work with their principal or school secretary to prepare and publish the school newsletter to the parish or school website. “As the students progress, they will maintain and contribute to their school’s website,” she added.
Our Lady of Angels’ and Holy Cross’s school web sites have needed regular updating, filling out and someone to do it.
O’Rourke envisions a continuation of the eJourney when school starts. “My immediate plan is to raise the money to fund the eJourn Club at Holy Cross and Our Lady of Angels this fall. I will be very involved in the design and planning of the Club,” she said. O’Rourke plans to work very closely with the principals to ensure the club fits with their vision for the schools.
“The budget for this project is to include a certified teacher with the appropriate skills to guide the students,” she said. “Ideally, the students will ‘own’ the program and develop leadership and confidence in the project. They will be responsible for production schedules and the quality of the published newsletters and public service announcements; the teacher will act as their adult guide.”
From the alert attention the kids paid to O’Rourke and their mentors as they worked on their eJourn summer projects, it all seems eLikely.