UCLA’s Dan Chernow and Microsoft’s Anne Kelley visiting Laguna Nueva Elementary School on Jan. 30. Click on the photo for a high-resolution image.
REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 30, 2002 — Carlos Valle counts at least 10 when it comes to classroom blessings. That’s about how many computers the educator has in his classroom at the Laguna Nueva Elementary School in Commerce, Calif., near Los Angeles.
Valle credits the new high-tech tools with allowing him to prepare compelling assignments that engage and excite the 33 students in his fourth-grade class in ways not previously possible. “It makes for a more hands-on experience in the classroom,” Valle says. “Many of these children come from low-income families and don’t have computers at home. This program allows them to learn the technology, and once they’re familiar with the technology, they look at school and their assignments from a whole different perspective.”
The school purchased the computers, along with printers and software, in December 2000, after Microsoft donated US$1 million as part of its ongoing efforts to enrich classroom curriculum with the use of high-tech equipment. The grant, administered by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School Management Program, was made possible with funds recovered in a Los Angeles-area counterfeit software settlement. Microsoft this week has upped the ante, adding another $350,000 stemming from recent anti-piracy initiatives, to sustain the software company’s program at Laguna Nueva Elementary.
“We feel we are providing students with the high-tech know-how they’ll need to succeed in the 21st century,” says Anne Kelley, Microsoft senior corporate attorney. “We are especially pleased to aid schools that perhaps have fewer funds and do our part to narrow the digital divide through high-tech education. Our participation in that process is made even more special since the program is funded through anti-piracy efforts. It’s the perfect chance to make lemonade from lemons.”
Microsoft is committed to curbing the negative impact that software counterfeiting has on communities around the world. In late November 2001, the Southern California High Tech Task Force, — including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Customs Service, the Los Angeles Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service — executed the most significant seizure of counterfeit Microsoft software and components ever. A preliminary inventory of the seized products put the estimated retail value at $100 million.
The proceeds Microsoft has put to use have helped foster an educational environment that uses technology to advance student learning and enhance parental participation in schoolwork. Says Dan Chernow, executive director of UCLA’s School Management Program, “The program has helped all of us — parents, teachers and students — appreciate the value of computers and explore the possibilities of technology. With Microsoft’s help, we are working to overcome the high-tech gap.”
Chernow says preliminary studies have shown that in the eight “lighthouse” classrooms utilizing Microsoft-sponsored technology at Laguna Nueva, students are more engaged in the curricula, and parents are more enthused about their kids’ coursework and better understand how computers enhance the school experience.
As examples, Valle points to class projects he assigned students in the eighth-grade class he taught last year and to his current fourth-grade class. The older children were asked to make mini-documentaries using I-Movie. Students paired up and picked topics ranging from the Mexican-American War to the women’s suffrage movement. They researched on the Internet, selected and scanned images and set the presentation to music. The younger pupils created presentations with Microsoft PowerPoint, based on something they had learned. They took digital pictures and put them on the computers to include in the reports.
“They had a blast,” Valle says. “These kinds of assignments are so much more hands on. The documentary could have been a book report. The PowerPoint presentation could have been an essay. But these projects had them excited. Their minds just took off with possibility.”
Alma Castaneda says she’s thrilled to learn how to use the computer at the same time as her 9-year-old daughter, Anette del Villar. Castaneda has been attending night classes at Laguna Nueva since last year, while her daughter does her learning during the day in one of the school’s “lighthouse” classrooms.
“Technology is very important because the whole world is changing and everything now is based on computers,” Castaneda says. “We have to learn how to use them. If we don’t, it’s like we’re a little bit behind.”
Castaneda, who works in a jewelry store, says she doesn’t need a computer for her present job. But she hopes her newfound skills might help her land a better post that requires high-tech experience. Through the Microsoft-funded program, she has been taught a variety of skills, including how to make brochures, how to create PowerPoint presentations, how to utilize Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and how to successfully surf the Internet. She hopes to buy a computer for their home soon.
As for her daughter, Castaneda says she’s grateful for the opportunity to take a larger role in her child’s education, and ultimately her future. “I think she’s very smart,” Castaneda says. “I think if we are always behind her and let her know that we’re interested in her education, I think she’ll be somebody important.”
Del Villar’s dreams aren’t that big at the moment. She has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up and whether the high-tech skills she’s now honing will play a huge part in her life. For now, the computer merely satisfies her need to be a super sleuth. She says she likes to search for information on the Internet, such as the latest Harry Potter products, and what people are saying about the movie or the books.
She also has a passion for plants and wants to research flowers that will grow the best at her new house. “I like plants a lot. I want to plant flowers that my mom says she used to take to the cemetery on the Day of the Dead when we lived in Mexico.
“It’s so much easier to look up those things on the computer.”