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Mobile computer lab brings LUSD students up to speed

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Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2004 10:00 pm

In the bleak, sun-stricken parking lot of a Stockton Save Mart sits a gleaming white Winnebago.

Take a step inside, and you will not find the usual house plants, furniture or road maps.

Instead, you will see rows and rows of computers, and seated behind them are children, their bent heads circled by blue headphones, calmly engaged in math or reading lessons.

This is not a recreational vehicle -- it is a vehicle for change.

When his computer freezes in the middle of a game that teaches punctuation, 8-year-old William Johnson patiently raises his hand to summon technology teacher Matt Hummel.

"Don't worry, we can load it again," Hummel says.

When the boy asks how to load it again, Hummel refers to an earlier computer lesson.

"Apple-Q," he says, reciting the keys that restart the computer. "Remember the magic of Apple-Q?"

Johnson looks intently at Hummel's keystrokes as if noting them for future reference.

A Lodi Unified School District student, Johnson is one of nearly 30 who represent the future vision of a school district steeped in technology, where all students have access to computers and the ability to learn from them. And the Urban Technology Vehicle, a computer lab on wheels, may be the vehicle that takes them there.

Randy Malandro, district instructional technology coordinator, envisioned the combination of an RV and a computer lab as the perfect way to bring technology and classroom learning to a community of underprivileged schools, while pulling the district into the 21st century.

Only two weeks old, the vehicle is already being used for school visits during the day, where teachers can sign up their students for computer classes.

Students at Claremont and Westwood elementary schools in north Stockton practice their math skills Wednesday on board the Urban Technology Vehicle. (Gena Lindsay/News-Sentinel)

In the afternoon, individual students needing help with school-work are recommended by teachers for a two-hour after school session that runs for two weeks.

To the pint-sized crew on board during a Wednesday afternoon class on the corner of West and Hammer Lanes in Stockton, however, the UTV is less of a classroom than a technological playground on wheels.

Toward the back, Ada Williams and Jurnesia Manuel giggle like old friends, though they didn't even know each other when the program began.

The two 8-year-old girls, from Clairmont and Westwood schools, are consulting each other on what they should write in their Power Point presentations.

It's a conversation they would most likely not be having if not for their time on the UTV.

This network on wheels is part of a program that serves the district's 19 Title I schools -- sites that receive federal funds to help schools with a high population of underprivileged students -- by offering computer classes to students who may have the least access to technology.

The Lodi Unified School District's Urban Technology Vehicle sits in a parking lot on Hammer Lane on Thursday. (Greg Kane/News-Sentinel)

It cost nearly $200,000 to convert a Winnebago into a computer lab that holds 30 Apple iBook laptop computers and accommodates as many students plus a credentialed teacher and technology assistant. An LCD projector washes an image of whatever is on the instructor's monitor onto a screen that separates the classroom area from the Winnebago's mammoth cockpit.

The computers, along with equipment and software cost more than $50,000, according to Malandro.

Funds to cover the project came from a combination of the district's Title I budget and contributions from schools of some of their own Title I funds.

The UTV plays an important role in bringing underprivileged students up to speed in a world where computer programs are fast replacing the Xeroxed worksheets and bulky textbooks of older generations.

Randy Malandro, Lodi Unified School District board member and creator of the Urban Technology Vehicle, describes how the program works Wednesday. The vehicle contains 30 computers for students to improve their math and reading skills. "We wanted it to be a modern day bookmobile" he said. (Gena Lindsay/News-Sentinel)

Thanks in part to a $1.1 million middle school technology grant won last year, the district has gone from having a computer for every 12 students to having one for every five.

Grants also funded training programs that showed teachers how to incorporate web pages, online textbooks and computer presentations into their regular class curriculum.

"This year, (my) students worked on Power Point research reports," said Kandace Devine, a seventh-grade science teacher at Millswood Middle School, at a district meeting.

Devine added that computer software also allows her students to learn about things like genetics and do virtual dissection at computers in their work stations.

The UTV prepares students of Title I schools for the same coursework that their peers at a higher-performing school are doing and gives them the confidence and a familiarity with computers and schoolwork.

"It's really engaging software," said LUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett, who was on board the UTV on Wednesday and spent some time with 9-year-old Jerome Manuel on a lesson about volcanoes. "The great thing is that it comes out to the community."

Malandro added that the software keeps the students' attention, while working with children from other schools builds social skills.

And the next time his computer freezes, perhaps Johnson will remember the magic of Apple-Q, log himself back into a computer program and continue his studies.

Contact reporter Sara Cardine at sarac@lodinews.com.

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