Written by Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

Any school district, whether it serves the tiniest of rural communities, or the students of a huge city, must effectively communicate with its parents. Individual schools stay in touch with families most commonly through newsletters, web pages, and sometimes via e-mail.  Teachers in Orlando Schools conduct parent-teacher conferences a minimum of once a year, make phone calls as needed, and send home comments about their students’ progress on report cards and mid-term reports.
Orlando Schools do all of this, and even more. The district has implemented a mass telephone service so that it can communicate any pertinent information to Orlando Schools parents almost immediately. Ronald Blocker, Orlando Schools Superintendent, describes the program:  “Since March 2006, the school district’s Connect-ED system has dialed more than 3.8 million phone numbers with community outreach and emergency notifications. The system supports multi-language communications that are specific to school communities. Notification of school closures, hurricane makeup days, updates on incidents at Orlando Schools, test dates and reminders of important meetings are just some of the topics that have been covered. Many of you (parents and community members) have already raved about our use of Connect-ED. It is an effective tool that allows district officials and Orlando Schools’ principals to prepare messages that are dispatched within minutes to people who need to hear them.”
A second service available in Orlando Schools is an anti-bullying program. The program aims to prevent students from being bullied or bullying others. In academic classes at Arbor Ridge High School, for example, students are given bullying lessons that may include reading assignments or questionnaires on their personal experiences with bullies.  46% of Orlando Schools students have said they had been bullied. Students are learning how to prevent situations where they or others may be bullied. A key lesson is that bullies escalate their actions the more they get away with it. 
A third, and very exciting program just launched this summer (2007) is The Big Red Bus.  Orlando Schools students who reside in Seminole County can now take advantage of a summer reading program that is truly ingenious. All students in Orlando Schools can board the bus and check out as many as three books a week. They can return them to the bus the following week, or they can keep them! The bus’ seats have been removed and replaced with wooden shelves to hold the 4,000 brand-spanking new books that officials have purchased. Orlando Schools will be using $40,000 in donations from CFE (Central Florida Educators) Credit Union, and the Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools. Anna Marie Cote, director of instruction in Orlando Schools says the program will especially benefit students who may not be able to get out to the library on a regular basis to get books. “We are trying to get it into places where it might be a bit harder for kids to get out and get books,” she says. When Orlando Schools students have finished reading books picked up from the Bus, they can log them on the Let’s Read website and have a chance to win prizes. The site also offers reading list and access to online books, including some that the computer will read aloud.