By Courtney Dentch
Students at four southeast Queens elementary schools in South Ozone Park and Jamaica received laptop computers, thanks to money secured by City Councilman Allan Jennings.
The schools were the first of the 17 schools in Jennings' council district to get the computers in a three-year agreement with the City Council, Jennings said at a news conference last Thursday.
Jennings negotiated a $7.5 million commitment to purchase the 12-inch Apple laptops for use by students in the third, fourth and fifth grades in all the public schools in his district over the next three years, he said.
“This money will allow us to accomplish something that hasn't been done ever in this district over the next three years,” Jennings said. “We have opened the world to our children and opened the lines of communication to their parents.”
The new technology is to be paid for by capital funds, money that council members receive to distribute among community groups and organizations and other projects in their districts, said Jennings, who represents Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Jamaica, and South Jamaica.
“I was fortunate to get a commitment for $7.5 million over the next three years,” he said. “I could have put the money into parks or streets, but I decided to put all the funds into the school system.”
Four schools – PS 96 in South Ozone Park, PS 123 in South Ozone Park, PS 223 in Jamaica, and PS 48 in Jamaica – will receive computers this month with the $1.5 million Jennings got in capital funds this year. Five more schools will get the laptops next year, costing $2.5 million, and the remaining eight schools will obtain their computers in 2005 with the last $3.5 million, Jennings said. The exact number of computers was not known.
“Not investing in education would mean doom for our community 10 years from now,” he said. “Where we put our priorities – it has to be with the children of the city of New York.”
The computers already in place allow the students to do research on the Internet and let teachers take advantage of online lesson plans and activities, said Joyce Barrett-Walker, principal at PS 96.
“Since the inception of the laptops the students have been actively engaged in using the computers to enhance the literacy program,” she said. “The children are fascinated.”
Attendance has also improved at PS 96 since the school received its computers March 7, Walker said. The school had reported an 89.7 percent attendance rate, but that jumped to 93 percent after the students began using the laptops, she said.
Michael Crawley, the principal at PS 123, has also seen improvement among his students.
“The computers have had a positive effect on teaching and learning at PS 123,” Crawley said. “We want to make sure the students really understand the technology and that we fully integrate it into all aspects of our curriculum.”
Once the students learn how to use and take care of the computers, they will be able to take them home to do homework and communicate with their teachers, said Maryann Veltre, technology coordinator at PS 96.
“We have to teach them how to hold it, how to handle it, not to fling it in their book bag,” she said. “They love it, and the teachers are motivated, too.”
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.