In your search for technology funding, it’s best to start in your own backyard. As one Washington, D.C. high school is proving, forming partnerships with local corporations can have as much–or more–of an impact on school technology projects as securing large grants from national programs.

The partnership developing between Calvin Coolidge High School and the nearby America Online (AOL) Foundation of Vienna, Va., will benefit the school and its students far more than if the company had simply cut Coolidge a check.

Through the partnership, called AOL Achievers, the AOL Foundation will provide the high school with 30 Pentium computers and internet services–but that’s just for starters.

AOL Achievers also actively seeks to build students’ skills, raise their aspirations for higher education, create a sense of community, and foster student and teacher involvement through online communications.

“These terrific kids are going to learn just how empowering this new interactive technology can be in their lives,” said AOL Foundation Chairman Jim Kimsey.

The AOL Foundation intends for its partnership with Coolidge to be a testing ground for exploring the use of interactive technology in spurring greater student achievement.

And it will do so by offering students a financial incentive to perform at a top level.

Under the program, Coolidge students will be eligible to receive a $500 scholarship toward post-secondary education for each semester in which they earn a combined grade point average of 3.5, beginning in their sophomore year.

Additionally, one student in each grade level will have the opportunity to earn a $500 scholarship for showing the most improvement, regardless of his or her GPA.

“Making good grades and going on to college may seem like an awesome mountain to scale,” said AOL Chairman and CEO Steve Case, “but we’re going to do everything we can to help (students) scale it.”

Through the program, AOL will set up mentorships between employee volunteers and students. Once a student qualifies to be an AOL Achiever, he or she will be paired with an American Online mentor. AOL will match mentors and students based academic, career, and personal interests.

The partnership will experiment with new approaches for using technology to achieve enhanced student performance.

“We’re going to test a variety of incentives and technological approaches to determine what formula works best for educational success in a business/education partnership,” Kimsey explained.

For example, AOL will set up an area online where students can access their mentors through chat rooms and eMail.

The company will also provide students with online access to college prep materials and AOL’s educational content and online assistance. Students will additionally have access to online courses to help them improve their study skills.

And the company didn’t stop there.

AOL has reached an agreement with Kaplan Education Centers, under which Kaplan will provide on-site SAT preparation to AOL Achievers. Kaplan also will offer workshops on using online resources to explore colleges and on navigating the admissions process.

Students will be able to identify colleges that meet their individual needs and interests, take virtual campus tours, download free SAT materials, get expert advice, and learn interview tips and financial aid strategies.

The AOL Achievers pilot program is the brainchild of AOL employee Beth Singer. She and her husband worked with the company, D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Ralph Neal, and former superintendent Vince Reed to develop the proposal. Reed suggested the program be piloted at Calvin Coolidge High School.

“We are excited to be partnering with people who are so focused on the future and who have redefined the meaning of ‘achievement’,” commented Coolidge Principal Glenn Jones. “We commend the AOL Foundation for addressing important educational needs in its own backyard.”