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EDUCATION–Disadvantaged Students Gain Access to Technology

LEMON GROVE , Imagine someone using a digital camera to photograph a piece of artwork. He hops on a computer and puts together a Microsoft PowerPoint slide presentation. The project showcases the artwork, text he wrote and typed into the computer, and a voice recording to accompany the text.

This could feasibly be an executive putting together a presentation for his company or a college student doing a school project.

But if you are in Lemon Grove, this is most likely an elementary school student doing an in-class assignment.

Blown away?

Their parents were, too, according to Barbara Allen, director of Project LemonLINK at the Lemon Grove School District.

With the help of business partners, government agencies, and school officials, the district has started building a connected learning environment for the Lemon Grove community of 26,000.

– Enables Learning

At Home And School

The program aims to give economically disadvantaged families access to technology to enable learning at home and in the classroom. About 68 percent of children qualify for reduced meals in a district of 4,600 students, Allen said.

“We’re leveling the playing field in Lemon Grove. We are providing students with quality educational tools , tools of business, tools of the economy , so that they will be better prepared to get out there and be an effective contributor to the U.S. economy,” Allen said.

LemonLINK is the first program of its kind in the county, she said, adding that many are keeping a close eye on the program, including the U.S. Department of Education, the California Department of Education, and other schools.

The district was one of 10 schools and districts to receive the 1999 Award for Instructional Innovation from Business Week magazine in May. The National Governor’s Association showcased the program in May 1999.

The district has also been nominated for a Computerworld Smithsonian Award in the education and academia category from the Smithsonian Institute. Winners will be announced June 5 in Washington, D.C.

While the technology program was conceived in the early ’90s, the project went into full gear when it received two grants in 1997, according to Barbara Allen, LemonLINK project director.

– School District To

Receive Grants

The school district will receive $3.3 million through the federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grant and another $1.9 million with a California Technology Literacy Challenge Grant, she said.

Major partners include Cisco Systems, Citrix, Computer Curriculum Corp., Compaq, Cox Communications, Microsoft and WYSE.

Business partnerships have helped both parties, Allen said. Since the district is basically a testing ground for this type of learning network, the district benefits by building a learning environment that was envisioned and businesses can learn something as well, she said.

Attila Tota, director of business services for Cox, agreed. He said this type of program helps business figure out how they can deliver their product.

Already, an advanced districtwide network connects the entire K-8 district consisting of Golden Avenue, Monterey Heights, Mount Vernon, San Altos, San Miguel, and Vista La Mesa elementary schools and Lemon Grove and Palm middle schools.

Those on the network can access Web-based applications. By running programs through the Internet, the district has been able to supplement the existing classroom computers with thin client terminals, Allen said.

– Workstations Cost

Less Than Computers

The device consists of a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and a connection to the district server through the Internet. These workstations cost two-thirds less than a regular computer, Allen said. The grant gave every four students a computer. Now, there is one “computer” for every two students with the addition of the thin clients, she said.

A different kind of learning and teaching are also taking place, Allen said.

As technology becomes a common classroom tool, teachers act more as facilitators, she said. Instead of being the major source of knowledge in a class, teachers can now teach children how to find information.

The district has a database of 200 periodicals, seven major newspapers and other resources.

While reading and writing levels are increasing, Allen realizes that students are learning lifelong skills that will transfer to their career choices.

– City, District

Work Together

With such a technologically advanced system in place, the city of Lemon Grove has contracted with the school district to provide Internet services.

The relationship has further helped to expand the network. Every time the city fixes streets, wires are run to expand the network, Allen said.

Cox is also hooking up families and creating the connected learning environment that was envisioned. Several hundred families currently participate in the final phase of a pilot program, Allen said.

Various payment options will be used to make placing a terminal and cable modem service in the home more affordable, Allen said.

In addition, Cox is helping educators apply for the Universal Service Fund, which can be used to provide discounted telecommunications services to economically disadvantaged students, Tota said.

Connecting homes to the network will enable students to do homework using the same technology and resources available at school, she said. Additional capabilities allow parents to check on a student’s classwork, progress and absences.

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