For five years, Jessup Elementary School parents sold pizzas and held spaghetti dinners to raise money for a school computer lab. For the last three months, they built the lab, hooking up hard drives and crafting desks out of kitchen counter tops.
Yesterday, the work paid off as the first students flipped switches to log on, slid the mice and practiced typing on the 18 new computers. Their assignment was to type what they had written in their daily journals into the computer.
"I think [a computer] is fun, and it can teach kids a lot of stuff. It's teaching me how to type and spell words," said Samantha Phipps, a fourth-grader, as she pecked away at a keyboard.
The computer project began in 1990 as part of parents' efforts to build walls in what once was an open-space school.
Parents set up a computer committee as part of Jessup Works, the group that planned the renovation project because they weren't sure how long it would take the school system to buy computers. "To bring the new technology into the school system will take a long time," said Gary Mauler, president of the Jessup Improvement Association. "The only way the schools can get computers is when the community goes out and gets them."
Initially, the group planned to repair 9-year-old IBM-compatible computers that Westinghouse Electric had agreed to donate, said Mr. Mauler. But last summer, Wang Laboratories agreed to give the school 40 2-year-old central processing units that could be made into computers.
Parents used the $11,000 they had raised to buy monitors, mice, keyboards and software to go with the processing units. They plan to raise more money to outfit the remaining units.
"This is just the beginning to develop a technological climate here," said Rosemarie S. Thompson, the Jessup principal.
Previously, Jessup students doubled up on eight 6-year-old Apple II GS computers that sat in one corner of the media center. With the laboratory open, the Apples will be moved into classrooms.
"Hopefully this will make a difference in society," said Mr. Mauler, who also headed the Jessup Works computer committee. "A lot of time was invested. I hope to see a pay back in the future."
County school officials have planned to spend $35 million over the next five years to put computer labs in all 117 schools, but the County Council has balked at providing the money. Under these circumstances, parents have started a project to outfit the secondary schools that Jessup students will attend with new computers as well.
Wang Laboratories has agreed to donate about 100 processing units to MacArthur Middle and Meade Senior High schools in the next month, said Steve Kendall, project manager for Jessup Works. "You can't rely on the Board of Education because they don't have the manpower or knowledge to handle that many schools," he said.