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VOL. 123 | NO. 22 | Friday, February 1, 2008

Small Private School Embraces Webcasting Technology

By Rosalind Guy

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Andrew Baur, a 17-year-old junior at Westminster Academy, is the computer whiz kid behind the school's enthusiasm over using webcasting to keep parents and others informed. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy

An East Memphis private Christian academy hosted its first-ever live webcast recently and is gearing up to share many of its future programs and assemblies in the same way.

Westminster Academy showed a live webcast of the school's Christmas program in December and Headmaster Dr. Michael Johnson said the effort was so well received, the school plans to showcase many more events by webcast this year.

"That was exciting, our little school doing something like that," Johnson said, unable to disguise his excitement. "That was incredible, it was really incredible."

Johnson said it's especially exciting because a school like Westminster could hardly be considered cutting-edge where technology is concerned. And not only that, it was one of his own students who put the webcast together.

"It's a little interesting when you consider that probably five years ago, we probably had virtually no technology in the school," Johnson said. "We don't have computer classes here; it's not that we think they're evil or anything like that, we just like kids holding books as much as they can and using their minds and developing the tools that God's given them. We see a computer as a tool but not something to master us, so for us to be doing something like having a webcast ... there's a little humor there."

Modern technology

Andrew Baur, a 17-year-old junior at the school, set up the webcast. Baur and his father, Peter, who's the director of institutional development for the school, began last year discussing trying the concept as a way to connect school events with parents and alumni who were unable to attend.

"I've been doing computer and IT work for the school for quite a few years now," Andrew Baur said, "just as a student, and I've seen the webcast being used in other venues and I thought it would be interesting to do, to connect the school's events to parents who, like my mother, (don't) get out to many of them."

Baur's mother wasn't the only one who benefited from the webcast. Johnson said he's received e-mails from alumni and family members who watched as well.

"We had a mom who is undergoing treatment for Lyme disease," he said. "I believe she's in Missouri - she watched it. Her daughter sang in it and she e-mailed us and told us about it. And one of our graduates in Costa Rica watched it as well; I mean it was sort of neat, we had people from different states that e-mailed family to say they'd watched it, saw their grandkids, it was quite a night."

Real world opportunity

The next school event scheduled to be streamed by webcast is the Student Works Assembly that will be held in April. But, Johnson said, deciding which events to stream will really be handled on a case-by-case basis.

"If we have an assembly speaker that we feel like might attract some type of audience online, we'll do that or if we have other programs we'll broadcast that, because it's a great way to communicate the mission of the school and then just some fun stuff to fit into who we are as well," Johnson said.

Baur, who at 12 years old helped the school set up its computer network, doesn't take for granted the opportunity the school affords him to use his computer talents.

"I've been blessed to be able to go to a school that's small enough and as developed in the technology field where I can really learn the skills in a real-world environment," he said. "In any other school, I would not be given the opportunity to do anything to this degree."

Johnson said it will be bittersweet to see Baur become a senior next year, because the school has relied on his computer knowledge for five years. During that time the school has contracted with Baur to have him perform various computer-related jobs for them.

"I'm sort of sad that next year he'll be a senior; he'll graduate and then we won't have our onsite guy," Johnson said.

With a student body of 363 kids, Westminster Academy is in Ridgeway Baptist Church at 2500 Ridgeway Road.

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