The assignment asked students to complete a piece of “authentic” writing focusing on the technology at hand, and to think critically about what advancements in technology students might experience 25 years later. Many students included the aspects of the lab which consisted of 25 Gateway 2000 64-megabyte computers with Windows 95 operating systems equipped with color monitors and three printers, one of which was color. Students saved their work on 3 ½-inch floppy disks. There was even a modem connected to the telephone and a scanner. At the time, it was a substantial investment in technology geared to prepare HCHS students for college and their future careers.
“I wanted the students to understand the value of what HCPS was doing for them.Many did exactly that as they remarked that their previous experiences included limited computer use and having learned to keyboard on typewriters. Memories of elementary and middle school helped them understand the fast pace at which their educations were being changed by technology.They remembered basic systems in libraries on which they could look up books or charge from lunch accounts in the cafeteria,” Perry said of the letters. “They noted that they now didn’t need correction tape, could revise and edit easily, change fonts, add clip art, play games installed on their computers when the teacher didn’t catch them, and listen to music while working.”
The letters also talked about current events and social issues of the time. O.J. Simpson was on trial. The Unabomber was arrested. Students were concerned about crime, racism, pollution and drug use. They also shared details of their own lives like sports they played. They wrote about exciting new developments at HCHS, including a new track team and athletic fieldhouse. The prom song in 1996 was “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, and the movie, “Forrest Gump,” was still popular with many, and the clothing styles and music favorites varied with the students.
The contents proved very interesting, and at times prophetic.
“Amy Yoder envisioned that we would be using picture phones. Some projected that students today would have their own personal computers - I bet they really didn’t see the Chromebooks that even the youngest kiddos are using today,” Perry said. “Phillip Bramblett hypothesized that ‘Computers will be able to talk, ask thoughtful questions, and give thoughtful answers.’”
Perry marveled at the uncanny timing of the opening of the capsule, given the huge role technology has played in education during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“There were actually students who made references to what we are currently experiencing. J. R. Chisholm’s comment to future students was, ‘Maybe you will even be able to learn at home on computers.’ Chisholm, a computer science major who now works in IT at the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency, is currently guiding his own three children through their online learning at home. LaShonda Hardin, who now teaches business herself, said in her letter, ‘With computers of the future there will be no need for students to attend school in traditional settings.’”
One of Denise Perry’s computer applications classes at Henry County High School from the 1995-96 school year posed for a group photo. Perry’s students wrote letters to the Class of 2021, reflecting on how much technology has changed for them and how much it might change for students in the future. The letters were saved into a time capsule and locked away in the school safe until a few weeks ago. Perry would now like to get those letters back to the students who wrote them.
Perry, who retired from HCPS and now serves as the Deputy Judge-Executive for Henry County, said she is assisting with her own grandchildren’s online learning. She is amazed and impressed at their technological acumen of all her grandchildren spanning kindergarten through seventh grade.
They are able to do things that I probably can’t and they certainly think about technology differently and with much less angst than most of my generation. They and their peers will definitely surpass those who were introduced at such later ages as we,” Perry said. “I learned long ago when I was teaching that I couldn’t stay ahead of the students. Many times when asked a question about how something worked or accomplishing a new task with a computer I had to respond, ‘I’m not sure. Let’s learn that together.’ I’m still there! When I tackle a new app, find a new function on my iWatch, or need technology assistance, I’m not afraid to admit that it’s easier for my grandsons to guide me through it.”
Looking back on the letters her students wrote 25 years ago gave Perry pause to think about just how much technology has advanced in just that time period. She hopes to use some of that new technology to return the letters back to their authors.
I would love to share with any of the students who would like to see their work,” Perry said. “I guess there’s a great opportunity to use newer technology than they were exposed to at the time! If students want to text me at 502-706-0653, I can take a picture of their letters and message them.”
Melissa (Eldridge) Perkinson, HCHS Class of 1996, had forgotten all about the assignment from her senior year. When her letter was returned to her, she vividly remembered the new computer lab and how much technology had changed at HCHS in her time there. Flash forward 25 years and Perkinson, who now works for Henry County Public Schools as the district registrar, is amazed at how much technology has changed education for her own children. “Can you imagine what learning will look like in another 25 years?”
Perry looks forward to hearing from some of her former students in returning their letters to them, but admits that she’s glad she is retired from education, given the current situation.
“What teachers, administrators, IT specialists, and students are doing now amazes me.Their resourcefulness, expertise, and attitudes have resulted in learning opportunities that I really didn’t predict,” Perry said. “Although incredible and purposeful feats are being accomplished in 2020 with online learning, virtual meetings, and all the other aspects of technology that even the students of 1995-96 couldn’t envision, I am very anxious for in-person learning.I know from the at-home perspective now that many have changed their viewpoints about the value of in-person learning opportunities and developed a new appreciation for the processes that have been occurring in schools since students were first educated in this community despite changing technologies.
“This pandemic has necessitated a phenomenal thrust to the incorporation of technology in education and has propelled us into the future,” Perry added. “Maybe even 25 years just within the span of 2020.”