Educators say communication between parents and teachers is vital. And, thanks to a new computerized telephone message system, educators at Westside Elementary School say communication with parents has never been better.

The system, the only one of its kind in the state, gives parents quick access to a variety of school information and gives teachers a direct message line into the students' homes.Parents can call the school using a touch-tone telephone, and by pushing two numbers, they receive access to a variety of message boxes, including information on what each teacher is doing. Each teacher has a message box where they can leave information on class activities, current study topics and homework assignments.

"You can call on this and find out exactly what your kids are doing, where it used to come home on a note, and parents were not getting those notes," said Sandra Lamb, a parent of two Westside students.

Principal Peter Fawson said the system has several other features that help involve parents in the learning process. The system's call-out capability allows teachers to send specialized messages to his or her students' homes. Parents can also leave messages or questions for individual teachers who are able to respond through the system.

"The biggest advantage is that it provides 24-hour access to the teachers and the parents," Fawson said. "With so many parents working, it is often difficult for teachers and parents to reach each other. This eliminates that problem."

David Fox, a Westside teacher, said the system ensures that parents are informed on assignments and class activities so they know what to expect from children. He said the system benefits all students but allows special instruction to reach the homes of those students who need help in certain areas, which is hard to do with notes."It opens up that line between the parents and teachers," Fox said.

Fawson said the school is receiving about 300 calls a day from parents and sometimes students. Wendy Rogers, Westside PTA president, said almost all Westside parents are using the system.

"The ones who are concerned about their kids are using it to the maximum," Rogers said.

Fawson said Westside paid for the system with a state productivity grant. John Nickens, the University of Florida professor who developed the system, spent two days during the summer training teachers and administrators on the system's different uses. Fawson said the system has 99 message boxes, and new ways to use the system are being discovered daily.

Fawson said teachers and principals throughout the state have inquired about the system, as well as parents from other schools. Several high schools use a similar system for attendance records, but Fawson said the Westside system provides more flexibility and is used in a more positive way. He believes all Utah schools will someday use the system.

"Every parent I talk to says, `Why isn't this in my school?' "


(Additional information)

Phone information

Information available through Westside Elementary School's telephone message system:

- Homework assignments

- Classroom study topics

- School activities

- School lunch menu

- School policies

- Upcoming activities