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Terraset Goes High-Tech

Thanks to PTA and corporate donations, school now has state-of-the-art technology.

It is far from easy being an elementary school — like Terraset Elementary in Reston — where one out of every five students speaks English only as a second language or where one of out every three children is poor enough to receive federally subsidized lunch.

Such schools face difficulties maintaining high scores on standardized tests. They face stiff sanctions if students do not make "adequate yearly progress" on math and English tests. They can have trouble getting parents involved in their child's education.

And perhaps most frustrating, such schools' PTAs often have a tough time raising money because many parents lack the funds or the corporate connections needed for major donations.

BUT AFTER three years of soliciting contributions from parents, holding fundraising events and asking local corporations to pitch in, Terraset Elementary School's PTA overcame their financial challenges and unveiled last week a state-of-the-art computer lab for the Reston school.

"It's a fabulous, totally current computer lab and we love it," said Ellen Cury, Terraset's principal as she stood at the entrance of the lab containing 26 computers Wednesday night. "It's been a long time coming. A long, long time coming."

Thanks to countless PTA fund-raisers, the school was able to purchase 24 new computers. BAE Systems, a defense contractor with offices in Reston, donated two additional computers to the new lab. In all, the school estimates the new technology is worth as much as $20,000.

Also, Fairfax County Public Schools supplemented the new lab with a mobile technology lab, providing the school with an additional 16 laptop computers. Last week the school system installed a wireless network at Terraset, allowing the laptops to be used anywhere in the building.

"Our community has worked extremely hard to raise the money so we could create a really great, first-rate computer lab," Cury said.

THE NEW TECHNOLOGY will allow Terraset's teachers to create and maintain classroom web pages on the Blackboard system, allowing both students and parents to see homework assignments, grades and download supplemental materials.

Also, the collection of new computers will enable students to access programs intended to help boost scores for Virginia's state-mandated Standards of Learning exams.

Last week, Terraset's second-grade students had their first chance to try out the new technology lab. Having just returned from a field trip to the National Zoo, the students used the computers to draw pictures of their favorite animals, write stories and take online quizzes about the animals they saw in Washington, D.C.

"A lot of these programs are directly related to their curriculum," said Elizabeth Lertora, Terraset's school-based technology specialist. "With this new technology, the kids are like, 'Whoa!' They're really paying attention."

TERRASET'S new technology will come in handy over the coming years as the school faces increasingly high standards under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Because Terraset is a high-poverty school and receives federal Title I funding, it is subject to sanctions such as school choice if its students do not perform as high as required.

The new lab should help meet those goals, Terraset administrators said, because it is helping to narrow the technology gap. At more affluent schools, nearly every student has at least one computer at home. At Terraset, Lertora estimates that 30 percent of the students have never used a computer before coming to school.

With a more level technological playing field, Terraset's students will have almost the same advantages and access to information as their more affluent neighbors elsewhere in Reston.

"For Terraset, the need for this lab is twice as much," said Carolyn Low, a PTA member and mother of a Terraset student. "A lot of these kids don't have computers at home."

SUZANNE WHITE, Terraset's PTA president, credited the parent and business community for coming together over the last three years to help fund the new technology lab.

"We may not have a ton of families at this school who can write big checks, but we have a ton of participation at all of our fundraising events," she said.

Cury, the school's principal, agreed, but said White and other committed parent volunteers ensured that Terraset was able to finally become high-tech.

"If it wasn't for the PTA, none of this would have ever happened," she said.