Gates Grant Will Put Renton Students Online
Seattle Times South Bureau
RENTON - On the inside flap of Bill Gates' new book, "The Road Ahead," there's a box with fine print that says all proceeds will go to support technology in public schools. And many of the students at Fred Nelsen Middle School here couldn't be happier about it.
Recently, their school became one of only 22 in the nation to win Gates' technology grants. The school now can afford to keep its computer laboratory open several hours after school each week, giving students time to do homework, surf the Internet and increase their confidence with computers.
Nelsen applied for the grant last summer. A foundation in Washington, D.C., which is administering the grant money for Gates, received more than 400 applications.
A foundation spokeswoman said Nelsen was selected because its program brings computers into students' lives in an informal setting.
Computer teacher Becky Brock said the after-school program is meeting the surging demand from children who don't have computers at home. It also gives her a chance to give individual instruction.
"During class, I only have time to teach the basics," she said. "After school, I can give them one-on-one advice."
Having computers is great, Brock said, but students also need to have enough time to tinker with them.
The computer lab at Nelsen is a large, bright room with 33 terminals. At 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, the chatter of seventh- and eighth-graders along with the clicking of keyboards drifted into the school's empty hallways.
Troy Miller, 13, sat in front of his computer, moving the cursor across Nelsen's newly constructed home page. He clicked on several files until he found what he wanted: a report on the Titanic that he spent two weeks researching and writing.
"I love drawing and designing ships," he said. "On the computer, I can do a lot of interesting projects." The report included a black-and-white photograph of the old luxury liner on its maiden journey.
Miller said he'd rather be in the computer lab than at home watching television.
"It gets boring just sitting around the house," he said.
Indeed, the after-school program is partly aimed at giving children an alternative to idle, unproductive time outside of school.
"Many of our kids are at-risk," said John Goldstein, who was part of the Nelsen team that applied for the technology grant.
About 30 percent of the school's 1,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
Pointing to the room full of about 20 students, Goldstein said, "I wish we could stay open until 11 p.m. every day. This could be our midnight basketball."
The $30,000 grant, which is spread out over two years, pays to keep the lab open for nearly seven hours each week after school. One night a week - Tuesdays from 7 to 9 - the entire community is welcome to use the computers. Bonnie Arel, who also helped write the grant, said church groups, small-business owners and others come to use the computers, printers and scanners.
By 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the student computer lab fell silent.
The students picked up their bus passes, put on their jackets and began the journey home in the cool night.
Brock, Goldstein and Arel talked about how successful the program has been and their plans to improve it.
When asked what would happen when the grant money runs out, they looked at each other.
"We're hoping the district and the community will come forward," said Brock. "At least that's what we're hoping for." ----------------------------------------------------------------- Computer lab hours
For more information on computer times for the public, call Fred Nelsen Middle School at 204-3000. The school's home page can be found on the Internet at http://220.127.116.11
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