Monday, May 14, 2001

In the Kahuku Elementary School computer lab, teacher
Dorian Langi works with Camille Veras as Marissa
Marques looks on. The school has made a top-100
list for computer literacy.

Kahuku School
joins computer
whiz list

National recognition arrives
for the can-do spirit that got
students and teachers 'wired'

By Crystal Kua

Seven-year-old Kallie Hancock is slowly tapping away at the keyboard of the computer in her second-grade classroom at Kahuku Elementary School.

"I'm writing about a bald eagle and what her name is," she quietly states, as she reads over what she has written so far in her endangered-animal story on Zelda the Bald Eagle. "It's fun to write (on the computer), and it's kind of fun to think if you were a bald eagle."

For Kallie, who also does schoolwork on her home computer, and other students at this North Shore school, working on the computer has become an important connection between school and home.

Kahuku Elementary is named one of the Top 100 Wired Schools in the nation, according to a survey in this month's issue of Family PC magazine, which conducted its third annual survey on technology in the schools.

About 84 percent of American school classrooms are wired to the Internet today, but the magazine said that being connected was not enough to be a "wired school."

The magazine looked at factors including teacher training, funds allotted to technical support, district level support and improvements in home-to-school connection and using technology such as e-mail.

Kahuku was selected from a total of 921 completed surveys received by the magazine. Schools were asked for the number of hours of technology training and whether technology support is available to teachers. They were also asked to describe a project that best illustrated how teachers integrate technology into classroom lessons.

On the surface it appears that the odds are against a rural school like Kahuku Elementary having a successful technology program.

But don't judge a book by its cover.

"When you look at our community, our school has about 64 percent (of the students) on free and reduced lunch, yet we have over 100 computers in the school," Principal Frank Kalama said. "Just because we're low income doesn't mean we have to be disadvantaged. When we have needs, we find the resources."

The goals were to get every classroom Internet-connected, every child computer-literate and make sure every child has access to technology.

Kahuku Elementary has several key ingredients in its winning recipe: a full-time technology coordinator in teacher Dorian Langi, administrative support from Kalama, help from other Windward technology teachers and the backing of the school community.

The same way the Kahuku community rallied behind its high school football champs, area folks showed up in droves when the call for help went out.

"When we were wiring our school, the community came out. They dug all trenches; they laid the wires," Kalama said. "We had Cub Scouts, parents, teachers and students digging and pulling wires and laying whatever needed to be done to wire the campus."

Kalama credits Langi for bringing out the community and for shaping the computer program.

"We're very privileged to have a tech coordinator who's also a teacher. So besides teaching every day, she is repairing equipment, training teachers and working with different projects like this one," Kalama said, pointing to four students who were reviewing past video production projects in the computer laboratory.

Langi's first incarnation came as a special-education teacher, and then she naturally progressed into computers. "I started (in technology) because I was working with the severe special-ed kids, and I wanted to learn adaptive technology for them."

In 1997 she was named the school's full-time technology coordinator, and the school computer program took shape.

Langi said administrative support like the kind she receives from Kalama is also a must. But Kalama said it is the teachers who get the ball going. "I believe in giving them the kuleana (responsibility), and you let them run with it and do the best they can."

The school now has five Internet connections and one phone line for each of the 28 classrooms. It has found different ways to make a seamless transition from schoolwork to homework for both teachers and students.

The school has 10 laptop computers for all teachers and an additional five laptops for special education.

"They can take them home ... and they can do their e-mail from home," Langi said. "We try to accommodate the teachers at home, too, during the breaks or just to do their report cards."

The school has also found a relatively cost-effective way to give students more access to technology, through portable AlphaSmart keyboards which students can use to take notes or write a report of up to eight pages and then download the information into a conventional desktop computer.

"The kids can take it outside, take it on field trips, take it to their desks, they can type up their reports so we're not tying up the bigger computers," Langi said.

"For students who had to do projects at home, if they lost the alphas, it's not that expensive, it's $300. If they broke the laptop, replacing them is like $2,000," Kalama said.

The school's Web site also helps students and teachers get information. Students can log on to sites that will help them with their homework, while teachers find assistance with lesson plans.

Teachers also attend classes on how to use different technology such as creating a Web site and video production, and they also learn how to incorporate technology into lessons.

Students learn computer basics such as keyboarding in the early grades, and by the sixth grade they should be able to conduct research online, write reports and do video production.

Academic bonuses have also followed the technological achievements. Kalama said that the school's Stanford Achievement Test scores are on the rise.

Also, an assessment done following the recent three-week teachers strike showed no academic loss. Kalama said that was due in part to the students' access to the information on the Web site which children could use to finish reports during the time they were out.

"When the kids were at home, they could still get on to our school Web page," Langi said. "So during the strike they could still do that and continue."

But they found some other positive side effects.

"It also helps with self-esteem," Langi said, holding up a finished book that was prepared by a kindergartner on the computer. "The self-esteem this child got as she got to read it to her class. It's something to them that is so beyond. We've noticed it really helps a lot of special-ed kids, too, because we really have noticed a difference in their self-esteem."

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