Putting Forest Park at the forefront of an educational initiative in Illinois, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn visited the Betsy Ross Elementary School Monday touting the public school district’s participation in a laptop distribution program that aims to reach all corners of the globe.
Statewide, Quinn is pushing for greater access to technology in education and in November helped MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte kickoff his One Laptop Per Child program. For every computer purchased here in the U.S., Negroponte’s organization delivers another laptop to students in developing nations. At that meeting in Chicago, Quinn announced District 91’s purchase of 100 of Negroponte’s laptops for its fifth-grade classrooms, thus sending another 100 computers to students in Rwanda, Cambodia and Haiti.
Quinn’s visit to Forest Park on March 10 signaled the delivery of those computers into the hands of local students.
“This school district is really a leader in the whole state of Illinois in showing what technology can be,” Quinn said.
Negroponte’s XO laptop has been hailed as a breakthrough in efficiency, performance, durability and usability. The compact and brightly colored machines require far less power than traditional laptops, are waterproof, dustproof and feature a keyboard that offers 18 languages. A built-in wireless mesh network allows the XO to interact with others nearby without logging onto an Internet connection. The machines also feature a range of kid-friendly programs.
Negroponte’s laptop can be obtained for $399, the price of which includes sending a sister machine overseas.
Students in teacher Katherine Valleau’s class at Betsy Ross were introduced to their computers just a few days before Quinn’s visit, and demonstrated five applications for the lieutenant governor and an entourage of state and local officials. Earlier this year Valleau attended a training session at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and will help teach other District 91 instructors how to incorporate use of the machines into their classrooms. Valleau called her workshop with the One Laptop Per Child program “the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
In introducing the lieutenant governor to her students, Valleau touted the ease with which her students grasped the computer’s operations and noted that one girl, Kristin Westervelt, had already taught herself how to make an art program interact with a memory game program.
“The depth that we can bring to learning with these is extraordinary,” Valleau said.
Following Monday’s meeting, Quinn said he intends to have Valleau serve as an ambassador to other schools and organizations in Illinois for the advancement of technology in the classroom.
Forest Park’s involvement with One Laptop Per Child began with a meeting between Quinn and village Commissioner Rory Hoskins last fall. Hoskins expressed an interest in educational programs and Quinn suggested the commissioner look into the laptop initiative.
Within a few short weeks the school district had signed up to purchase enough computers for its fifth-graders after getting political and financial support from local businesses and politicians. Mayor Anthony Calderone, who also attended the meeting, presented a check to Superintendent Lou Cavallo to purchase two more pairs of laptops.
“There’s never a better time to help our children than today,” Calderone said.
Also on hand were Commissioner Mark Hosty, District 91 Board of Education President Glenn Garlisch and Dem. Rep. Constance Howard, 34th Dist., who is a primary sponsor of a legislative push to provide more low-cost laptops to Illinois students.
“I’m extremely proud,” Hoskins said as he watched students use the computers. “I’m really happy with this.”
The remaining computers will be distributed as teachers undergo the necessary training, according to Cavallo. Students may occasionally be allowed to bring the laptops home with them, but it’s unlikely that any international correspondence will begin by the end of the current school year.
At present there are no plans to purchase XO laptops for other grade levels in District 91, said Cavallo, but that may change depending on the availability of funding and the demand from the school community.
“I have a feeling that once the kids see these and everybody gets wind of them, everybody is going to want one,” Cavallo said.