When parents of students at Dixon Middle School want to know how their children are doing in school, all they need do is pick up the phone or access that information via the Internet.
And when students first learned that parents could now electronically monitor their progress on a daily basis, their reaction ranged from "my parents can know that?" to "I'm sunk," say teachers.Grade information, daily assignments, even daily attendance is now available to parents either over the phone or through the Internet 24 hours a day in what may be a first in Utah and possibly the nation.
Developed by Parlant Technology of Provo, the Internet software programming was completed this past December and put into use at the southwest Provo school in January, said Principal Bob Gentry. For him, it's been a seven-year effort that grew more intense this past year as he worked with Parlant to complete the new ParentLink Internet system.
Eugene Paulsen, a vocational education teacher at Dixon, has the most hands-on experience and is the system administrator. He also is helping Centennial Middle School in Provo's east foothills launch the program there next year. Parlant officials estimate more than 100 schools across the state will implement the technology this year.
About 30 percent of the parents use the system now and most of them use the telephone to access information about their children's attendance and efforts, Gentry said. But getting that information over the Internet is considered the wave of the future.
Either way, there is growing acceptance among students and their parents.
"I think it's a great program to find out your grades without talking to the teacher," said student Jason Webb, 13.
"I like it," said Megan Beckstrom, 12, a sentiment echoed by 12-year-old Savannah Brundage. But they all agreed the system still has bugs. "They should get it fixed," said Megan.
Paulsen said the school is limited to four telephone lines right now, so access over the phone may not always work. But school officials are working on that.
"It's not error-free," acknowledged Gentry. Even the Internet program has its problems, usually caused by teacher error. "There are too many possibilities for error, so we have to figure out a way to make it more user-friendly," he said. "I think it's the beginning of the total vision," he added.
Holly Tippets, a science and health teacher, said the new system is a time-saver for her, in addition to being a wake-up call for her students. "It's very difficult for me to contact all the parents of kids who aren't doing well," she said. "This backs me up. Parents can find out (what they need to know) without me."
To access student information by phone, parents call the school at 374-4980, then when their call is answered, dial 1200. A recorded voice asks for an identification number and passcode number before the caller can advance further. Once in, the caller is led through a tree system to get the information he or she wants.
To get the information over the Internet, users type in the Web site, (www.dixon.provo.k12.ut.us/). Parent-Link then asks for an identification number and passcode number. Once in the system, parents can choose among homework, grade or attendance information with just the click of a mouse. A demonstration program is located at (www.parlant.com/demo).
"Parents have more control, more real-time information," said Paulsen. If they don't have access to the Web at home, they can call up the information at work, print it out and take it home, he said. The downside is the time it's taking to teach teachers how to use it, Paulsen said. They're required to update the information at least every two weeks. Paulsen prefers weekly updates.
The new system won't stop the school from sending out final grades at the end of the term, but parents and students who monitor the system regularly won't be surprised when grades come out, he said.