Computerized teachers? North Bergen school board approves electronic home instruction

To deal with extreme situations in which students have serious health or disciplinary problems, the North Bergen Board of Education awarded a contract at its meeting on Tuesday that can replace teachers with computerized tutoring in children’s homes.

Alternative Unlimited, Inc of Maple Shade, N.J. will go to a child’s home and set up a laptop that allows the student to complete schoolwork. The computer will not allow open access to the internet. A CD-ROM containing the district’s curriculum was provided to Alternative Unlimited.

When the student is done with their suspension or illness, the laptop will be picked up.

Board of Education Business Administrator Steven Somick explained that home tutoring can be very costly for the school district, with teachers being paid $65 an hour. He said that sometimes teachers do not feel comfortable going to students’ homes if there are major disciplinary problems. As an alternative, instruction has sometimes been held in the school’s library with three or four students and a security guard, which was also expensive.

Schools Superintendent Robert Dandorph said that there is a student with Crohn’s Disease who will be benefited by the program. Crohn’s is a non-contagious disorder affecting the gastrointestinal system. It sometimes requires surgery.

“When she was in grammar school, it was a sort of easier to get her home instruction,” said Dandorph. “In high school it’s a little harder, so we’ve gotten her on this program and we made an arrangement so that when she [can] come to school, she comes.”

Making a paper trail

Following a new state mandate, the Board of Education awarded a contract to not exceed $8,890 for the next year to School Dude of Cary, N.C., to create a computerized program for maintenance and technological support requests.

Dandorph said it will keep a “paper trail” when someone needs a new light bulb or for their computer to be fixed.

“It’s a really nice feature and its inexpensive compared to most others,” said Somick.

After school program

A relatively new pilot after-school program conducted by Jewish Family Services will cost the district $350,000 for this school year.

The program is being hosted at the Fulton and Horace Mann elementary schools for children up to the fourth grade, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It costs the parents approximately $175 per month.

The program is an enrichment program that has one hour dedicated to school work, with the rest of the time spent in the gym and on arts and crafts.

Somick explained that the district has the option to end it at any time if enrollments drop or other problems occur.

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