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Technology Opens Doors for Students and Parents

Unlike many other elementary school students, Devon Redding, Kellianne Tomlinson and Wes Beale are sad that school is coming to an end.

They are fifth graders at Woodley Hills and the end of the school year means that they have to return the laptops they’ve been using for the past year. The laptops came courtesy of the Woodley Hills Laptop Project, funded by the Community Technology Center Grant Project.

“I’m using it for my ancient Greek project,” said Beale, who was present with Redding and Tomlinson last week at an Open House held at the Community Technology Center on Richmond Highway. The three fifth-grade students showed guests how easy the laptops were to use and spoke about how much they used them. Sitting in a room with just the laptops, onlookers were surprised when Beale connected to the Internet to access some information on Homer. The laptop connections are wireless and connected to a main station in another room which had the access to the Internet.

This same principle is used when the students bring the laptops into the classroom, wireless connections give the students access to printers and to the Internet. The laptops are used everyday at Woodley Hills, but only at designated times.

Sharon Aldredge, assistant principal at Woodley Hills, said, “One of the important things is that they know to use the laptops only when it’s appropriate.”

HAVING POSSESSION OF a borrowed laptop also gives the students a great sense of responsibility. Every evening, students need to charge the batteries so that the computer is ready for the next day. If their laptop is damaged, it takes a long time to have it repaired, and the student goes without — good incentive to keep it in good working order.

While some of the students do have access to computers, for many of the students this is their only link to technology. The project was initiated to try to address the “Digital Divide,” the gap between those who have access and ability to use technology and those who do not.

Devin Loftus, another fifth grader, said that she has a computer at home but that it’s often in use by one of her parents. Having her own helps her with her homework.

“It really motivates us and gets us interested in school,” she said. “It shows us how to be responsible.”

WHAT WORKS FOR THE KIDS works for the parents as well. While the students use the laptops at school and at home, they can also use them at the Community Technology Center with their parents. The technology center is co-located with the UCM Employment and Training Center, which provides job training, job consulting and other services for their regular clientele on a fee basis.

Through the technology grant, Woodley Hills students and parents can take advantage of free classes every Tuesday and Thursday evening, as well as Saturday mornings. Classes are held on everything from resume writing to searching for a job on the internet to learning English. Students are encouraged to bring other family members and friends with them. Because of the liability of loaning laptops, the project is still limited to Woodley Hills, but Marianne O’Brien, grant director, hopes that the grant will be extended and they will be able to include other schools in the future.

Obrien added, “Technology is a means to an end. I think what’s important about this is the family involvement. It gives the family something to focus on and it raises expectations. When expectations are raised, performance goes up.”