PTA efforts bring better computers to students 

"Fond" may not describe the memories one San Mateo kindergarten teacher has of her first classroom computer — a boxy and colorless Apple IIE, purchased nearly two decades ago.

Today, some of Judy Nielsen’s Highlands Elementary School students have handheld video game systems with faster speeds and better graphics than the old desktop.

But thanks to countless hours of volunteer work and more than $100,000 in donations by the Highlands Parent Teacher Association, her classroom now has a half-dozen relatively new computers.

"Clearly, just being in Silicon Valley, these kids need these skills," said parent Keith Goldberg, who coordinated the PTA’s efforts to procure the computers. "Some of these kids don’t have access to computers at home, so this gives them that ability at school. To learn the basics is great for them."

The PTA has given $20,000 annually for the past six years in the form of both funding and computer donations. In addition to computers, it has provided printers, digital cameras in each classroom, software for students and portable flash drives so teachers can take work home.

The group also helped the school through a matching program at Hewlett-Packard. The company leverages any funds donated by parents into hardware and software for the school.

"[The children are] thrilled, obviously there are a whole bunch of things they can do now that they couldn’t do before," Goldberg said. "They can take digital pictures on field trips and then the kids can write a narrative about what went on during the field trip."

Nielsen said that while her kindergartners aren’t quite ready for programming lessons and heavy word processing, the computers have a number of educational games and programs to help students learn the English language.

"Because my students are of the computer generation, they don’t really react to this. This is just another part of school," she said. "They see it as an exciting thing that they’re comfortable with, even if they’re not using them for video games."

The computers have also ended a time-honored school tradition.

Before computerized attendance programs, students were often asked by their teachers to carry attendance forms to the office each morning.

Nielsen said having it done by computer each morning has saved her time and alleviated the constant wondering of, "Is my student going to come back?"

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