by David Serbin
photography by Alen Zilic
Jasmine Magallanes enters the state-of-the-art computer lab, logs on to one of the 40 MacIntosh LC III PCs and begins her weekly instruction. She is learning how to use the keyboard, and when she gets stuck, she asks her teacher for help. Sounds pretty ordinary with one exception – Jasmine is 5 years old and in the first grade.
This computer lab is not located at a high school, at a community college, nor at a university. It is located at Roynon Elementary School. Thanks to a grant from the state, students at Roynon – all 826 of them – are able to spend time using the technology that will become an integral part of their learning system.
Susan Brown, principal at Roynon, believes the students will greatly benefit from learning how to use the computer at such a young age. “Computers are being used much more often in the classroom,” she says. “Each of our rooms has a computer in addition to the ones in the lab. The information superhighway will be used to access valuable information, no matter what the grade level.”
Jasmine’s father, Victor, is delighted that his daughter has the opportunity to take part in such a highly-technical area. “I think it is fantastic,” he says. “Our world is evolving at a fast rate; pretty soon, every home will have a computer.”
Students spend a progressive amount of time in the computer lab. Jasmine and her classmates come in once a week for 30 minutes. Fourth and fifth graders spend nearly an hour a day, twice a week.
When they arrive, they meet Andrea Pluth, who is the temporary computer lab instructor. Pluth helps the students get started and then stands back and watches as they use headphones and special software to intuitively self-instruct themselves.
Kindergartners start out with a program called “Kidswork II,” which teaches them how to use and control the mouse. They learn to draw pictures and make lines. In the first grade, the students use a software program designed to learn the keyboard and the location of letters through picture association (e.g., Jasmine finds the balloon by pressing “B”).
Pluth enjoys watching the children progress. “The MacIntosh computer is very user-friendly,” she says. “Some of them have played computer games at home, so they have an idea of what is going on. They are not afraid to use the keyboard and mouse.”
In fact, some parents are the ones more concerned about their children being introduced to a computer. Dr. Jay Jones, chair of academic computing at the University of La Verne, was one of those concerned parents.
“I was hesitant about letting my child learn about computers,” he says. “I was afraid that proper keyboarding techniques would not be emphasized. Children, like adults, need to learn the best way to use their keyboards.”
The second graders at Roynon begin to learn typing etiquette, and when they graduate to the third grade, hard-core keyboarding is learned. By the time the students have completed their schooling at Roynon, they will be able to take these skills with them through their academic life and beyond.
Pluth is able to spend more time working one-on-one with students as they get older and become more experienced with computers. In the early grades, she tries to help the students, along with their teacher, learn the basics. Later, as the children hone their skills, Pluth can give more time to those who need more specialized help.
A computer lab such as the one Roynon provides will allow students to go into the 21st century well-versed on the latest technology. Keyboards will be obsolete in about five years, according to Jones, but the students will take the change in stride. After all, they will be veterans at the computer technology game.