Just to Help One Kid

Computer Printout - Brigham Young High School

In the early 1960's, I was appointed chair of the technology committee for the Brigham Young University High School faculty. The faculty felt that "the times, they were a' changing" and that we needed to try to incorporate the latest technologies into our teaching methods.

BYU leaders generously offered computing time to us on the university's mainframe computers, but we did not know how to make the most of their offer. We did not have computers yet on the Lower Campus, nor did we have anyone at BYH who knew how to program computers.
1960s IBM mainframe computer
In reality, we did not yet know how computers might help us. We started by conducting research and brainstorming several ideas. We hit upon the idea of using the computer to design an optimum teaching schedule every day. We hoped to discover some way to enhance the way we taught our students. Frankly, today "daily-demand scheduling" sounds a little old fashioned, but at that time it was cutting edge.

We heard about an IBM company project that allowed them to lend their computer engineers to schools that lacked technical expertise. At the time, IBM engineers were making a whole lot more than BY High teachers.

This potential time donation was then worth at least $15,000, which may not sound like much, but in today's dollars, 75 percent of a computer engineer's salary would have $60,000 to $70,000 annually.

We certainly lacked the technical expertise we needed, so we sent a proposal to them. The request circulated within IBM for an engineer to help at Brigham Young High School. A member of their professional staff in the Provo area saw it and volunteered to consider helping us. It turned out he was a member of the Church.

I was given the last period of the day free that year, in order to work on our technology projects.

When the engineer first started, IBM had not yet committed his services to us, but allowed him to visit only to explore the feasibility of helping us.

One day I was scheduled to meet with the engineer, but I told him we would have to shorten our session because I had to go to a confidential student focus meeting right after school.

He was trying to learn everything he could about "things BY High" and asked me if he could attend with me to observe how we operated. I checked with key faculty members, and they were willing to invite him.

In this type of meeting, we selected one particular student who was having learning problems, and focused our full attention on them in an effort to clarify his or her special problems. Before the meeting ended, we would decide exactly what each one of us could do to help that student improve.

Those who attended these confidential meetings were the counselors, all the teachers, and one or more of our administrators.

Most of the students at BY High were relatively bright. Only a few were what might be called, in today's terms, special education students. And occasionally we held a focus group on one of our bright students who was having problems in areas such as discipline, family problems, or health issues.

I'm quite sure that the student we were focusing on that afternoon had "attention deficit disorder" or ADD, although that term had not yet been invented in those days. We did know, however, that according to the standard IQ test of that time, his score was considerably below average.

Our meeting lasted over an hour. At the end we each agreed to provide specific types of help to the student, and to do all in our power to help him preserve his eligibility in athletics, because sports was one area in which he was doing okay.

Everyone agreed that his modest success on the athletic field was important to his self-confidence and was serving to counter problems in academic areas, which tended to undermine his ability to feel good about himself.

Part of the dynamic here was that the student was trying very hard in Math, English, Spanish, and so on, but he was not getting good grades. He was a very likeable student who never had any discipline problems.

However, we had all noticed that his lack of success in academic areas was altering his personality, making him feel he was a loser.

The IBM engineer observed all of this and evidently was impressed that so many people would cooperatively work on improving things for just one kid. As we left the meeting together, he asked me if this student was a star athlete.

"No," I said. "He is a good athlete, but not an outstanding one. Physically he has limitations, but his dedicated effort and determination compensate for his size."

I commented to the engineer that the student gave the same determined effort in academic work, but this had not been sufficient to overcome his learning disabilities -- we didn't use that term back them -- but that was the gist of my analysis.

Just One Kid
Just One Kid

The engineer confessed to me that his early impression of the meeting was that everyone wanted to preserve the athletic eligibility of the student, and were willing to bend the rules a bit for the benefit of the athletic team.

However, as the meeting developed he began to see that everyone was there just to help the kid and had no ulterior motives, such as just trying to win more games.

After that focus session, the engineer returned to his supervisors at IBM and described his experience of attending that meeting. He said he kept telling them about all the effort that he saw being made "just to help one kid."

He told them he realized that many kids had come under similar scrutiny and analysis, and in fact, every student at BY High benefited from what the faculty and counselors were doing.

His higher ups at IBM approved the engineer's appointment to BY High, and he was able to give us about 75 percent of his time for a full school year, producing a remarkable experiment at a tremendous cost saving for the school.

~~ M. Rex Arnett, BYH Faculty, 1962-66

Quill pen writing line

An IBM engineer, 1961
IBM engineer & sliderule
M. Rex Arnett, Brigham Young High School Faculty
M. Rex Arnett & language lab