The Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe has invested in an e-mail system that levels the playing field between pupils who have e-mail accounts and those who don’t.

Having students communicate with mom and dad, especially those deployed, was a huge motivation behind the program.

“Unlike most civilian stateside schools, DODDS-E is attuned to the role of schools in deployments,” DODDS spokesman Frank O’Gara said. “Teachers receive training to assist kids in dealing with the stress of deployments and to look for signs of distress.”

And this is another peg in helping them cope, he said.

For example, a “tremendous” number of parents of Ansbach High School students are deployed to Iraq, and the e-mail system will give them a chance to stay linked to their parents, Principal Jennifer Rowland said.

Until Friday’s parent-teacher conference, Ansbach had only 25 of its 317 students submit the required parent- or guardian-signed permission slip, she said.

“I don’t know if it was forgetfulness, or what,” she said. But post-conference, interest shot up to well over 200, she said.

“At this point, it’s brand new and hard to say how it’s going, but we anticipate it will be a good resource for student and teachers and parents,” Rowland said. “Teachers will have all student e-mail accounts and can e-mail reminders and other correspondence to the whole class.”

Systemwide, 5,990 of Europe’s roughly 45,000 pupils have registered for their own e-mail accounts, said Pat Ridge, the educational technologist for DODDS-Europe Education Division.

The school system spent about $35,000 to buy the commercially available system through Gaggle mail, and will maintain servers in Frankfurt to provide faster access than using a commercial system based in the States, O’Gara said.

The reason behind the program is twofold, Ridge said.

First, it lets pupils and teachers readily communicate with each other and with their parents, whether the parents are around the corner at work or home, or deployed miles away in a combat zone.

The second reason is to let children take advantage of online educational curricula, such as distance-learning programs, advanced-placement classes offered at other DODDS schools, mentor programs, or a chance to work on class projects with pupils around the world, Ridge said.

Some high school students also have begun submitting college entrance packages through the e-mail system.

The e-mail accounts are monitored closely by teachers, and filtering software blocks unsolicited e-mail, commonly called spam; pornographic e-mails; and mail that might contain offensive words, he said.

The program can be customized to block out e-mails that might contain new phrases pupils might contrive to circumvent the blockers.

The system-blocked e-mails will be redirected to the teachers, who can counsel children on proper use of the system, if necessary.

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