Editor’s note: Jenny Carless is a freelance writer based in California. This article about Cisco’s launching of a $40 million initiative for rebuilding of schools damaged by hurricanes along the Gulf Coast originally appeared at News@Cisco and is reprinted with permission.

SAN JOSE,Schools are often the functional and social “heart” of a community. So when Cisco Systems was looking at ways to offer long-lasting support to the many people and communities affected by Hurricane Katrina, they decided to focus on education because it is a passion for the company.

Cisco has been a long-time proponent of blending technology and education as these things provide the tools that people need to succeed. From its internal and customer-focused training programs to the Cisco Networking Academy and projects like the Jordan Education Initiative, Cisco has long been committed to educating tomorrow’s generation.
Inspired after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Cisco recently announced the “21S” initiative…a blueprint for 21st Century Schools. Cisco envisioned creating a 21st century school that could serve as a model for what the school of the future should look like. The goal was not just to re-build, but to build better than before.

By replicating this blueprint for modernizing schools around the country, the Mississippi Education Initiative (MEI) will bring 21st Century Schools to Mississippi. With a $40 million investment by Cisco into the 21S initiative, Cisco earmarked $20 million of that for the initial phase focusing on Mississippi.

“Cisco believes that technology plays a vital role towards the ultimate goal of student success,” explains Tae Yoo, Cisco vice president of Corporate Affairs. “And student success can then lead to economic development and further community success.”

Towards Student – and Community — Success

“This is truly a unified public/private effort,” Yoo continues. “Cisco is working closely with the Mississippi superintendents, principals and educators in individual schools, to address educational opportunities and the role technology can play.”

For the past several weeks, Yoo and colleagues have spent countless hours partnering and listening to educators in Mississippi about the Mississippi education system in order to understand where Cisco can add value.

“We’ve spent time learning about their current practices, their vision and how far along they are in their strategic plans,” says Yoo. “We quickly realized that there was a convergence of our goals and visions.”

Coupled with a sound and rigorous approach to education – like that found in the Mississippi programs – technology can provide many additional benefits, such as distributing knowledge more easily, creating opportunities for teachers and curriculum developers to work more interactively, helping enable teachers to create learning communities so best practices can be shared widely and much more.

Cisco intends to provide baseline support and pilot strategic initiatives that touch seven districts as well as adopting three specific schools – rebuilding them as models of 21st century education. The company’s commitment to the region is multi-faceted:

  • Making a financial commitment, beginning with $10 million in the Hattiesburg and Gulfport areas, for both interim solutions and long-term rebuilding

  • Contributing employee expertise for six- to 12-month rotation assignments, through the Cisco Fellowship Program

  • Bringing a process and an approach to rebuilding and transformation, based on its experience from other educational programs.
  • The following districts and individual schools in Mississippi will be the focus of these efforts: Forrest County Agricultural High School, Forrest County School District, Hattiesburg School District, Lamar County School District, Petal School District, Moss Point High School and Harrison Central High School.

    In addition, the Mississippi Education Initiative aligns with the State of Mississippi’s existing High School Re-design program – a reform pilot program in four high schools. Through MEI, Cisco plans to double the program to reach eight high schools.

    A Vision of 21st Century Schools

    In helping to implement the strategic vision of the school districts in the Gulf region, Cisco and the many other participants are also creating a model for 21st century schools that can be adopted around the world. The goal is not just to re-build, but to build better than before. The 21S model exemplifies Cisco’s Connected Learning framework which embodies five principles; a World Class Education enabled by a Networked Community, an Exemplary Administration, focusing on Teachers First to build a Student Centered learning environment. With the support of government and the proper technology infrastructure, 21st century schools can serve as the core of their communities.

    They can employ wired and wireless networking as well as Internet Protocol (IP) Telephony. Teachers, staff and classrooms can take advantage of servers and computers, and classrooms may also have advanced communication systems.

    With the right networking infrastructure, school districts can be linked electronically to state administrative management software (for applications like finance, human resources and student information systems). Learning management, content delivery and assessment software can provide an integrated learning environment that blends classroom teaching with individual e-learning activities, student collaborative projects, tutoring and continuous assessment and feedback.

    In 21st century schools, administrators, teachers, parents and community members can have access to in-person and virtual training in order to equip them with a high level of competence and confidence in using technology.

    Building on IP

    This vision is only possible with an IP network.

    An integrated IP infrastructure can reduce construction costs for new or rebuilt networks by 5 to 10 percent by eliminating duplicative wiring systems, multiple monitoring and controls and simplifying school facilities management.

    Schools that implement converged IP voice, video and data resources gain important advantages with the advanced applications they can deploy, from learning management and assessment software to security monitoring and video conferencing that brings in speakers from remote locations.

    “These are all technologies that Cisco offers to its customers today,” says Yoo. “They can add tremendous value in an education setting, just as they do in the business world.”

    A Work in Progress

    The efforts Cisco and others are undertaking for the victims of Hurricane Katrina are still evolving. To date, the participants have agreed on some key initial projects that will touch all the participating schools, but there are other important strategic initiatives – still to be defined – that will be driven by the respective school systems.

    “Just like the engineers who develop our networking products, teachers are the engineers of education,” says Yoo. “Educators and administrators are the key drivers of this education development effort, and we’re eager to work with them to learn what we can do to help bring 21st century schools to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.”

    Cisco: www.cisco.com