Keyboard skills help pupils as writers NORTH COUNTY--Linthicum * Ferndale * Brooklyn Park

LITERACY MEANS COMPUTERS TOO

July 26, 1993|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

The young publishers-to-be deftly scrolled through the laptop computers' menus with discerning eyes, carefully selecting graphics and positioning them before quickly picking out stories to meet the deadline for the next edition.

"The beaches of Lake Michigan are wonderful places for picnics," wrote Angela Farnquist, 7, editor-in-chief of The Muskegon Chronicle, a paper dedicated solely to describing her dad's hometown in Michigan.

The second-graders, students at Overlook Elementary School in Linthicum, joined with their parents last week in Anne Arundel County public schools' family literacy program. A month ago, the program spent a week with children from Van Bokkelen Elementary in Severn and Jessup Elementary.

"I think it's a real good program," said Tim Farnquist, 34, as his daughter, typing with both hands, wrote another story for The Muskegon Chronicle. "I don't think I turned a computer on until I was 30 years old."

The program, which targets second-, third- and fifth-graders, will begin its fourth year in September. It was designed three years ago by Laurie Ullery and Paula Despot, both former teachers who are now family-literacy program developers with Anne Arundel County public schools.

Besides teaching the youngsters computer literacy, the program also helps them with their writing skills, said Ms. Ullery and Ms. Despot, who tote the 30 laptop computers from school to school.

Ten of the computers were purchased. The rest were donated by Librex Computers Systems Inc., a now-defunct San Jose, Calif., company, the two women said.

For one week during the summer, the children have been taking the computers home to work on classroom assignments with their parents. "They really like it. I couldn't get them off of it," said Donna Werling. "Mommy really didn't get much of a chance to play with it. "It seems to spark their imaginations," she said as two of her children, Elaina and Elissa Lintner, examined their news pages and shut down shop for the day.

Starting in September, about 10 computers each will be left at Overlook, Van Bokkelen and Jessup elementaries for the entire school year, Ms. Despot said. The youngsters' teacher, Pat Riggins, once asked them, "How do you like doing homework in the summer?"

"We love it on the computer," the children replied.

While they won't make pens and pads obsolete, the computers help alleviate the tediousness of having to write out a rough draft and rewrite it to produce a better one, Ms. Riggins said.

The literacy program survives off grant money. For the last three years, it has received a grant with a three-year renewal limit from the Maryland State Department of Education. That grant expires Sept. 1, Ms. Despot said.

She and Ms. Ullery are searching for other grant sources, to keep the program afloat and possibly expand it.

A videotape of the children working on the computers with their parents was filmed last week at Overlook. It will be distributed across the state as a teaching strategy, Ms. Ullery said.

"Their writing skills have improved tremendously," said Ms. Riggins. "They've gone from writing a few sentences to three-paragraph stories."

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