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$22 million U.S. grant to bring students into digital age

By Brett Kelman HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 5, 2010) - Only about one third of Guam's public school classrooms contain a computer with access to the Internet, but an unprecedented investment of federal stimulus funding promises to rocket local campuses into the digital age.

This money could put computers in every classroom, wireless Internet at every campus and -- with hope -- a talent for technology in the mind of every student, said Rose Sizemore, a librarian at Liguan Elementary School.

"We basically know that it's a technological world that we live in, so to have those schools using it, already, early on is helpful," Sizemore said Tuesday. "It's important to build those skills of success with a computer and the Internet, but learn to be safe, responsible and respectful too."

Many students will inevitably explore the Internet on their own, but without lessons on its potential for research or learning, they might never surf further that Face book or YouTube, Sizemore said.

Other students, who do not have computers at home, will find fewer opportunities in the modern working world if they do not become familiar with technology at school, she said.

Fortunately, the stimulus money that the Guam Department of Education (DOE) plans to spend on technology upgrades will infuse computer and Internet skills into the daily lessons of students of all ages, said Superintendent Nerissa Bretania Underwood on March 26.

Guam DOE plans to spend about US$22 million of State Fiscal Stabilization Funding to make technology upgrades at local schools, according to GovGuam's grant application.

About US$9.9 million of this money was awarded on March 26 and another US$12.2 million is likely to be awarded this fall.

This money will be used to install about five computers in middle and high school classes and purchase mobile laptop carts that can be wheeled from one elementary class to another, the grant application states.

If more money is awarded this fall, it will be used to buy laptops for high school students.

Today, Sizemore works in one of the limited places in Guam's public schools where students do use computers with Internet on a daily basis. Liguan Elementary is one of Guam's newest schools and eight computers sit in the library, ready for use.

Most visits to the library are only a half an hour long, so although many students are interested, they don't get to spend much time with the computers, Sizemore said.

It would be better if the computers went to the classes instead of the classes coming to the computers, she said.

The laptop carts that will be purchased for elementary schools will make this possible, and the amount of technology in each class will only grow as students' age through the public school system.

Eventually, each high school senior should have a laptop of their own, Underwood has said.

Guam DOE is far from this goal today.

According to the Guam Public School System Technology Master plan, a survey given to school system employees in 2008 revealed that only 40 percent of classrooms and offices don't have computers. Of those classrooms that did have computers, 44 percent didn't have Internet access, the document states.

The computers and equipment bought with stimulus funds will change this, but technology without training is a useless tool, said math teacher Jonathan Pilarca last week.

Pilarca works at John F. Kennedy (JFK) High School, which suddenly gained computers when it moved from an aging campus in Tamuning to a temporary campus in Tiyan.

Pilarca said computers are now available at JFK, but few teachers are comfortable enough with the technology to make it a large part of their lessons. Pilarca believes that only about one-fifth of Guam DOE teachers would know how to integrate technology into the curriculum, even if they had it.

"It's a good thing they are giving us money, but hopefully we will spend it correctly through training and the right equipment for each classroom" Pilarca said. "They need to buy what is right for each class ... and teach (teachers) how to use it."

Of the US$22 million Guam DOE hopes to spend on technology upgrades, about US$1.4 million will be spent on professional development, according to the grant application.

That money will be used to train teachers with computer and pay tuition costs for teachers who want to take other technology courses.

"This professional development is first and foremost," Underwood said.

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