Originally created 09/12/98

Internet monitoring wins parents' praise



CHARLOTTE -- If Kelly Rhodes' 3-year-old acts up at day care, he might witness the misbehavior -- not in person but via the Internet.

Both Rhodes and his wife, Kim, get live photos of their daughter Sarah's day-care classroom in Charlotte transmitted on the Internet to their computers at work.

"I log on first thing every morning and leave it on," said Rhodes, a First Union data processing manager. "I'll look at it at lunchtime, see if she's throwing food or anything."

A couple of dozen centers nationwide launched Internet monitoring last year. The Rhodes' day-care center -- called "pal-a-roos" -- is believed to be the first to try it in North Carolina.

Working parents and distant grandparents with little ones at pal-a-roos can log on and see still photos of their child's classroom, updated every 20 seconds.

"You get live pictures? Whoa! That is a totally interesting idea," said Peggy Ball of the state Division of Child Development. She hadn't heard of any similar projects in the state.

The Internet project at pal-a-roos started a year and a half ago, when Rhodes saw a television news segment on three centers that linked personal computers and classroom cameras.

"When are you going to have it available?" he teased center owner Mike Horney, who works with Rhodes at First Union.

Horney, the bank's Year 2000 project manager, decided to create an Internet monitoring program himself when companies quoted him high prices to install them.

The service debuted in August. His wife Diane, who runs the center, says she has been won over by praise from parents and relatives. About three-fourths of the center's parents have Internet access, she said.

"We've had grandparents logging in from as far away as the Philippines," she said.

The Horneys said their staff was a little skeptical at first, but they're already videotaped constantly, with monitors playing in the office.

"You have to have 100 percent confidence in your staff to do that," Mrs. Horney said.

Only family members with special codes can access the classroom cameras. Even then, they can see only their own children's classes. The Horneys said anyone attempting to gain unauthorized access would crash the system.