A push to bring more computers into the technologically starved curriculum in Forest Park took a big step forward this month with the unveiling of a new computer lab at Grant-White Elementary. Students at the K-5 school now have almost daily access to a computer, marking the start of what is potentially a major shift in classroom instruction.

“I’ve started to look at how I can pull technology into the lesson now that I’ve got this great resource,” third-grade teacher Erin Dwyer said.

Dwyer’s students were in the new lab just a few days before school let out for the holiday break. Each one of her students was assigned to their own work station. Previously, teachers and students had to make do with only three or four computers.

Grant-White is the first school in District 91 to have a designated computer lab in its library, but each of the other campuses will see 20 to 24 computers installed over the coming summer, said Business Manager Ed Brophy. The upgrade is expected to cost the district $25,000 to $30,000 per school, but the expense will pay off in a number of ways, said Brophy.

Building a general familiarity with the technology, learning the keyboard and the early development of research skills are just a few of the anticipated dividends.

“We’re trying to build the skills early so [students] can develop them over time,” Brophy said.

The computers installed at Grant-White are several years old and were sitting in storage prior to mid December. Those machines will be upgraded this summer when the rest of the district receives new equipment. Grant-White’s library was designed with a computer lab in mind, according to school officials, so it made sense to go ahead and roll out the district’s first-ever computer lab and get a jump on addressing any kinks before the newer models arrive.

Third-grader Brianna Williams has a computer at home, but she doesn’t have access to the Internet unless she goes to the public library. Williams, a student of Dwyer’s, was using a Web-based program to practice her math skills in preparation for the Illinois Student Achievement Exam in March.

“I was excited because I don’t have the Internet at home,” Williams said of the new computers.

Dakhari Austin and Joshua Bell-Bey, also in Dwyer’s class, said they’re particularly fond of the computers because the problems they can work on are different than what they normally do in class.

“We love them,” Austin said.

In 2007, Grant-White students rebounded from a disappointing performance on the ISAT with nearly 73 percent performing at or above grade-level. The year prior, fewer than 54 percent of the students were meeting state performance expectations.

Grant-White has seen its ISAT scores fluctuate inconsistently since 2000 when only 47 percent of students were meeting proficiency standards. Prior to 2007, the school’s highest marks on the exam came in 2003 when roughly 62 percent of the kids met the state benchmarks.