A Place to Power Up: Technology and Teamwork
A computer center lets kids develop tech proficiency -- and cooperative-learning skills.
Student participants in Holly Oak Elementary School's PowerUP program use the Internet to research famous women in history. A fourth grader shows his father a Web site he's discovered about Wilma P. Mankiller, principal chief of the Cherokee nation.
Credit: Roberta Furger
In January 2000, fourth- through sixth-grade students at Holly Oak Elementary School didn't just watch the spectacular lunar eclipse. They used the Internet to learn all about this stunning event, prepared presentations based on their research, and then taught younger students at their East San Jose, California, school everything they'd learned so that they, too, could fully appreciate the rare occurrence in the winter night sky.
That lesson in astronomy is just one example of the way in which the school's new PowerUP computer center is being used not only to provide students with ongoing, meaningful access to the Internet and state-of-the-art computers but also to help foster the spirit of students' teaching other students that is an integral part of this new program.
Established in 1999, PowerUP represents the collective efforts of more than a dozen nonprofit organizations, major corporations, and the federal government. Its goal: to establish computer centers in cities and towns throughout the country, serving youth who would otherwise not have access to technology.
Partnerships Spur Growth
Holly Oak Elementary was one of the first four pilot sites, established in the fall of 1999, and PowerUP is rapidly expanding its efforts. Sixty sites will be up and running by the end of the summer, and a full 250 sites will be operational by the end of the year. This aggressive plan is made possible in large part by PowerUP's partnership with youth-serving organizations, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs (Holly Oak's partner organization), and the National Urban League. By teaming up with local chapters of these national organizations, PowerUP is establishing computer centers in sites with a proven track record and a long-standing commitment to serving area youth.
"Although many centers will be located on school sites, others will be part of community centers, housing developments, even churches," says PowerUP CEO Rae Grad. "We'll go anywhere, as long as children are there."
Technology Access a Key Ingredient
While the locations of PowerUP sites may differ from one community to the next, the design of each center is based on the same basic program elements: computers and Internet access (PowerUP is providing 50,000 Gateway computers and 100,000 AOL accounts), innovative and enriching programs and activities, trained staff to work with children, close ties to neighboring schools, and healthy snacks -- a key component in any program designed to serve youth.
Through one of its many partnerships, PowerUP has teamed with the national AmeriCorps*VISTA program to provide two staffers for each new center. These individuals work closely with the staff of partnering organizations to ensure that computer-related activities are coordinated with other programs for youth. At Holly Oak, AmeriCorps staffer Ameya Bijoor spent his first few months on the job getting to know the school staff and building the relationships necessary to work with teachers as they incorporate technology into their classroom instruction. "If the center is going to be successful, it has to build on the work that has already been done at the school," he explains.
Engaging the Whole Family
Parents, too, are encouraged to take advantage of the new community resource by participating in workshops or classes -- either on their own or with their children.
"It's important to get the whole family involved," says Principal Mercedes Boles, who was recently named California's only National Distinguished Elementary School Principal for the 1999-2000 school year. "Our parents have heard about how computers can benefit their children, but you need to show them all that computers can do before they really understand why they should have one at home," she adds.
Although every center offers children academic assistance, the PowerUP philosophy is about much more than improving basic skills. It's about helping children to understand technology and the role it can play in future academic or professional endeavors. It's about discovering career opportunities and establishing relationships with adults who can serve as role models and mentors for youth. And it's about encouraging youth to share their many talents with others in the community.
Supporting Youth Development
At Holly Oak Elementary, that sharing took the form of teaching younger students about the lunar eclipse. At Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle, the site of another PowerUP center, it meant visiting a nearby retirement home and teaching a basic computer course to senior citizens. "We're not just teaching children about how to use the mouse or explore the Internet," says Casey Coonerty, PowerUP's western regional program manager. "We're using the technology to create an atmosphere of positive youth development."