NYC schools establish e-communications system

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is the largest system of public schools in the United States, serving about 1.1 million students in over 1,600 schools. The DOE has recently awarded a competitively bid project to provide New York City schools and parents with secure email service for five years beginning in the 2010-2011 school year.

The ePals email service, SchoolMail® , is being provided at no cost to New York City public schools. The goal of the program is to provide a secure, private space where students can communicate and collaborate as part of their learning experience. Parents will be able to receive e-mail from their school and the DOE regarding school events and their children’s progress in class, as well as the opportunity to interact with their child’s teachers. ePals SchoolMail will be provided to the New York City DOE without advertising of any kind to students, with sponsors and educationally-related advertising for adults.

Because the service is hosted on the Web, integrating technologies from Microsoft Live@edu, the district does not need to maintain software, hardware or server side technology for the deployment. This cloud-based solution is estimated to save the district spending up to $5 million annually on infrastructure to host e-mail for students, teachers and parents.

“This partnership will create an additional channel through which schools can communicate with families about how to get more involved in their school communities and academic programs,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “Our children always do better when their families are invested in their education.”

With the new system, schools can provide safe, filtered electronic communications capabilities to their students and other stakeholders. For example, a third grade student in Manhattan could communicate with other third graders in his or her classroom or school, with his or her teacher and parents - but not with high school kids.

Students can access educational content from providers such as National Geographic or expert mentors approved by their teachers. A Brooklyn-based student in fifth grade could secure a mentor through the program and collaborate online to improve the student’s literacy skills.

Educators can choose from resources that enhance the integration of technology and collaboration for learning purposes, while principals or others might update parents about upcoming events, or post and update calendars. Online journaling and writing projects may be established, and students can communicate with others in New York City or around the world through access to the ePals Global Community, which connects 600,000 educators who teach 25 million students worldwide for project-sharing, cross-cultural exchanges and language learning practice with native speakers. A class in Queens learning Chinese could collaborate with a class in Beijing learning English.

The New York City DOE will provide every parent with an e-mail account. Parents can tap into SchoolMail features such as instant translation into 58 languages – an important capability given that more than 40 percent of the city’s students report speaking a language other than English at home.

“ePals SchoolMail and its collaborative workspace tools help NYC students work with each other as well as with other ePals classrooms across the globe, putting NYC on par with classrooms in Europe and Asia that have already embraced Internet-enabled learning technologies,” said Tim DiScipio, co-founder of ePals.