Philanthropist gives Encarta Africana to every NYC public school: $80K donation to help students understand ‘cultural history’

Every public school in New York City will receive a free CD-ROM encyclopedia of black history, thanks to a successful investor who never forgot how he made it big.

When Alphonse Fletcher Jr. was a teen-ager, he spent many nights in front of a computer his parents had given him. He went on to Harvard, then Wall Street.

On Feb. 23, he announced his gift, valued at $80,000, at a news conference at New York State Board of Education headquarters in Brooklyn.

“My own experiences with computers, forming my educational development and also the role they’ve played in my business–all of that led me to be a very strong advocate for making computers accessible,” said Fletcher.

A multimillionaire before he turned 30, he now runs his own firm, Fletcher Asset Management Inc., and is one of the country’s most prominent black investors and philanthropists.

And he’s never forgotten the computer that opened his mind 20 years ago.

Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew said the CD-ROMs will get kids excited both about reading and about using computers. But he added that the subject matter–black history–is what’s really key.

“It isn’t just reading–it’s reading and knowing your own life, knowing your own ability to make a contribution to your cultural history,” Crew said.

New York City has the largest public school system in the nation, with more than 1 million students and 1,136 elementary, middle, and high schools. More than a third of the students are black.

The CD-ROM–Microsoft Corp.’s Encarta Africana–has 3,361 entries, including 2,200 photos, audio selections, and video segments.

Among the user-friendly film clips are Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech; Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa; a baseball play by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series; Bill Robinson–Mr. Bojangles–tap-dancing on a staircase; Jesse Owens winning the 100-meter dash in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany; Joe Louis’ 1938 knockout punch delivered to Max Schmeling; Louis Armstrong singing; and a mini-documentary about Africa’s earliest city, Kerma, in the Kingdom of Kush.

The encyclopedia was edited by two well-known Harvard professors of Afro-American history, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah.

“We’ve published an encyclopedia about the whole black world, starting with Lucy, our common human ancestor in Ethiopia, going through Egypt, all the way up to the birth of rap music and hip-hop culture,” Gates said.

Only 19 percent of black households have computers, said Gates, who likened the lack of computer literacy among blacks to a form of slavery.

“(Technology is) essential to learning in the 21st century,” said Gates. “We’re so far behind in terms of basic literacy, and now we’re getting behind in terms of information literacy.”

Encarta Africana retails for $69.95. A printed version is due to be published in November.

Lesson plans for helping teachers integrate the product into the classroom are available through Microsoft’s Encarta Schoolhouse web site.

Fletcher Asset Management Inc.

http://fam-inc.com

Microsoft Corp.

http://www.microsoft.com

Microsoft’s Encarta Schoolhouse

http://encarta.msn.com/schoolhouse

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eRate agency commits $1.66 billion: First-year funding capped for schools and libraries

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, issued its final wave of 1998 funding commitment letters Feb. 27. The tenth and final wave brings the total dollar amount committed to schools and libraries to $1.66 billion for the program’s inaugural year.

The SLD’s announcement, which was made March 1, came on the same day President Clinton released 1998 figures showing more than half of the nation’s public school classrooms wired to the internet. With help from the eRate, Clinton said he expects all classrooms to be wired by 2000 as promised.

“Vice President Gore and I have set a goal of connecting every classroom in America to the internet by the year 2000,” the president said in a White House statement. “And thanks to new eRate discounts that help schools and libraries connect to the internet, we will reach our goal by the year 2000.”

According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of public school classrooms connected to the internet nearly doubled last year, from 27 percent in 1997 to 51 percent in 1998.

SLD officials estimate that as a result of the eRate, nearly 650,000 additional public school classrooms will be wired for internet access this year. That figure would increase the total percentage of U.S. public school classrooms with internet access by another 25 percent, to more than 75 percent by the end of 1999, officials said.

Those figures assume that all applicants complete their wiring projects by the deadline, which now stands at June 30. But the SLD has filed an ex parte motion with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking that the deadline be moved back to Sept. 30, which would give schools the entire summer to complete their projects.

“The future is now,” said SLD president Kate Moore. “This commitment of $1.66 billion will enable thousands of students and library patrons to leapfrog into the realm of internet connectivity, which would have otherwise taken years to reach. The result will be a more highly educated society and a more competitive workforce.”

First-year overview

According to the SLD, telecommunications services and internet access were funded for all eligible schools and libraries that successfully completed applications within the filing window. But only applicants who qualified for discounts of 70 percent and above received funding for internal connections, which were designated as a lower priority by the FCC last June.

Of the 30,121 eRate applications submitted within last year’s filing window, 25,785 (about 85 percent) were funded. Most of the unfunded applications requested only internal connections but fell below the 70 percent cutoff point, Moore said.

Internal connections accounted for 54 percent of the total funds committed, she said. Telecommunications services accounted for 40 percent, and 6 percent supported basic internet access. About 60 percent of the total funding went to the neediest applicants–those for whom at least half of the student population qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

The $1.66 billion is about $265 million short of the $1.925 billion total collected by the FCC to fund the program’s first 18 months. Part of the $265 million difference was set aside in case the FCC decides to allow the extension of contracts that expired before Dec. 31, 1998, Moore said.

When the FCC extended the first year of the eRate by six months–to June 30, 1999–the agency initially ruled that contracts expiring before Dec. 31, 1998, could not be extended to cover the extra six-month period. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently asked the FCC to allow extensions for such contracts, and a final decision is expected from the agency soon.

Another $45 million was set aside to pay for administrative expenses, Moore said, including about $12 million in one-time start-up costs. The rest of the difference will be kept in a contingency fund to cover awards to schools and libraries that win more money by appealing SLD rulings, she added.

Highs–and lows

States that received the most funding were generally those with the largest populations. California, for example, received $206 million in funding, followed by New York with $165 million and Texas with $128 million.

One notable exception was Georgia, which received nearly $78 million–the fifth-highest total among the 50 states. More than $28 million was awarded to the Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency (MRESA) alone, a consortium of 14 Georgia school districts that includes the 11 metropolitan Atlanta school systems, three associate systems, and more than a half-million students.

MRESA received funding for an internet-based educational video distribution and multimedia network called MRESAnet 2000. The system will use the data communication lines currently being installed through the state Department of Education’s Peachnet initiative, along with the satellite broadcasting capabilities of the Atlanta Public Schools and Georgia Public Television, to bring video-on-demand to each school in the MRESA region.

“This is going to be a real shot in the arm for the school districts involved,” said Bernard Hatch, executive director of MRESA.

Not everyone was happy with the disbursement of funds, however. The SLD turned down a request for nearly $17 million in funding from the Tennessee Department of Education to upgrade the state’s education network, ConnecTEN.

Tennessee’s application proved controversial from the beginning. Because states are not eligible to receive eRate discounts for improving their wide area networks, Tennessee sold its network to a private company, Education Networks of America. In return, ENA offered to install a point of presence at each of the state’s 1,600 schools so it could charge the state for direct internet access to the schools, rather than the routers, hubs, and switches necessary to improve the network.

In rejecting Tennessee’s request, the SLD said the network hardware costs did not qualify as internet access expenses under the eRate. State education commissioner Jane Walters told The Tennessean she would appeal the agency’s decision to the FCC.

Still, the state’s schools and libraries netted more than $27 million from the program because many school districts chose to apply on their own. Memphis City School District, for example, was awarded $10.5 million to bring six cable drops per classroom and 100MB Ethernet connectivity to every desktop in 63 of the district’s 166 schools.

Schools and Libraries Division

http://www.slcfund.org

National Center for Education Statistics

http://nces.ed.gov

Federal Communications Commission

http://www.fcc.gov

Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency

http://www.mresa.org

Tennessee Department of Education

http://www.state.tn.us/education

Memphis City School District

http://www.memphis-schools.k12.tn.us

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School technology funding conference to attract $7 billion audience

Educators who individually have raised an average of $3.6 million for school technology and are going for $7 million as a goal for the year are coming together later this month in San Diego. The occasion for the get-together is the Grants & Funding for School Technology (G&F) conference presented by eSchool News and co-sponsored by Teacher Universe.

If past attendance at this event is a guide, some of the nation’s most effective school fundraisers will be gathering at San Diego’s Wyndham Emerald Plaza Hotel on April 29-30 to swap strategies, mingle with leading grants givers, and learn how to raise even more money for their schools’ technology programs.

According to research among educators who have attended a G&F conference, the audience as a whole has already succeeded in raising $7 billion for schools. Roughly a fourth of all attendees individually have raised a lifetime amount of between $2 million and $10 million.

What these numbers show, according to Gregg W. Downey, editor and publisher of eSchool News and one of the organizers of the conference, is that school technology leaders who come to the event are a powerful group looking to take their fundraising efforts to an even higher level.

“They’ve done what they can with the resources at hand,” Downey said, “and it’s significant. Now it’s time to bring their skills–and their fundraising potential–to the next level.

“But not all school leaders know how to do that,” Downey added, “which is where we come in.”

It’s in the network

The next step, Downey said, is to leverage even more dollars for school technology by meeting face-to-face with key players in foundations and to network with other successful fundraisers.

“They’ve got to get out there and meet the people who can make that happen–the grantsmakers themselves, and other successful school leaders,” Downey said. “And those are exactly the kind of speakers and attendees who will be at our conference.”

That’s why this month’s G&F conference will feature school leaders who have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure, teacher training, and school networking projects. Some of those speakers will include:

Dr. Gary Carnow, who has raised over $30 million in grants. Carnow, a former teacher, is the director of technology and information services for the Alhambra, Calif., School District and the moderator of Scholastic Network’s Grant Center.

Peggy Meathenia, from the Lufkin, Texas, Independent School District, who raised more than $14 million for school technology in five years. While at a smaller school district in east Texas, she was able to take a $25,000 distance learning grant and parlay it into a $7 million project.

Dr. Michael V. Gershowitz, who has written 150 winning proposals totaling $80 million, including 28 federal and state distance learning grants, 22 of which were funded. He also wrote one of the 19 Technology Innovation Challenge Grants that were funded in 1997, out of a field of 679 applications.

Phillip Hibbert, the first African-American and the youngest person appointed to serve as Assistant Superintendent in the Cobb County, Ga., School District, credited with designing and building one of the largest educational networks of its kind–the Cobb Educational Network–funded at $40 million.

Dr. Sandra Becker, whose district’s record of its technology implementation is included in the 1999 Permanent Research Collection of the ComputerWorld Smithsonian Innovation web site.

Conference attendees will also be able to network with key grantsgivers in federal programs and corporate foundations.

Mike Haney from the National Science Foundation and Cheryl Garnette from the U.S. Department of Education will present sessions on funding initiatives–and what their departments will be looking for in grant applications–for the coming school year.

Marilyn Reznick of The AT&T Foundation, C.J. Van Pelt from Cisco Systems Foundation, and Michele Cavataio from The AOL Foundation will discuss how schools can work with corporate partners to fund school technology initiatives.

Conference attendees will also hear from JDL Technologies’ Allen Schmeider, vice president for K-12WORLD programs, who will be presenting a session on how to land major federal technology funds. Dr. Schmeider played a key role in the implementation of the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants and the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, and served as the Technology Director for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

The conference receives support from Innovative Communications Inc., America Online, Sphere Communications, and 3Com, which is sponsoring the General Session on the eRate.

Grants & Funding for School Technology Conference Home Page

http://www.eschoolnews.org/gfconf

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Swapping hardware for ad access is on the rise

On Feb. 8, a Pasadena, Calif., company called Free-PC announced it would give away 10,000 Pentium-II computers to customers willing to accept a constant display of advertising in the margin of the computer screen. Within a few weeks of the company’s announcement, more than a million people had signed up for the offer.

Free-PC’s proposal is similar to that of ZapMe! Corp., which gives away 15 computers with satellite-based internet access to schools in exchange for advertising in the left-hand corner of the monitor. The offers mark the emergence of a business model that has privacy advocates concerned and school leaders debating the merits of accepting technology gifts that come with strings attached.

Unlike ZapMe!’s program, Free-PC’s offer targeted consumers, not schools. To qualify, candidates had to fill out an online profile to determine how desirable they would be to potential advertisers. The online form collected personal information such as telephone number, address, eMail, date of birth, household income, hobbies, and interests.

While ZapMe! doesn’t collect personal information in exchange for computer equipment, it does take into account a student’s grade level–supplied when the student logs onto the network–to dish out age-appropriate advertisements.

The concept of free computers presents an attractive offer for consumers–particularly for cash-strapped schools in search of technology. But despite the fact that advertising supports a host of free services already–including much of the internet–many educators argue that the business model employed by companies like Free-PC and ZapMe! should have no place in schools.

“The students are in school to get an education, not to be exploited for advertising purposes,” said Gary Marx, executive director of public relations for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “Whatever the medium, that’s the ethical approach that we need to take in our schools.”

Significant demand

Like Free-PC, ZapMe! has had an enthusiastic response to its offer. “Within the first 100 days, we received over 11,000 inquiries and 5,000 signed applications,” said Frank Vigil, ZapMe!’s president and chief operating officer. “This tells me that the demand for our service is significant.”

Already, ZapMe! has installed its “netspace” service in 65 schools. The company hopes to implement it in 2,500 schools by the end of this year.

Participating schools receive a satellite dish and server that are connected to the ZapMe! network through satellite signals and land-based lines. The schools also get a printer and 15 Pentium-II computers running Windows NT Workstation 4.0 operating systems.

According to Vigil, the ZapMe! network is about much more than just free PCs. It also delivers high-speed (2 Mbps) multimedia educational content via satellite. Some of the content is supplied by other companies, and much is taken from the web. The content is selected and reviewed by ZapMe! editors and K-12 educators for its usefulness and appropriateness to the K-12 classroom, Vigil said.

In return for the ZapMe! service, the school must supply the power and space for the network, plus a standard phone line. Schools also have to sign a contract promising to use the network at least four hours per day, allow evening use of the computers for community service and training, and help select the ZapMe! content by making recommendations to the company.

ZapMe! is supported by corporate sponsors who pay the company to deliver their educational content and brand image. Sponsors’ corporate logos appear in the lower left-hand corner of the ZapMe! browser.

“There’s clearly a market need out there that we’re trying to fill,” Vigil said. He pointed to the huge funding gap that exists between most schools’ technology needs and the resources available to fill them. “ZapMe! is available to all students equally, so we can help narrow that gap,” he said.

Targeted ads

Even to casual observers, it’s clear that advertising already abounds on the web. In fact, advertising supports several outstanding web-based educational services that otherwise would cost money to access. But Marx and others draw a distinction between “incidental” and “targeted” advertising.

“If students are exposed to incidental advertising through browsing the web, that’s different,” he said. “But when it’s targeted–‘We’ll give you free computers if you’ll agree to give us a captive audience’–then it’s not just incidental.”

The kind of advertising that ZapMe! displays is called “brand imaging,” and it’s intended to develop brand recognition and loyalty among teens.

“We provide equipment and 10,000 of the best educational web sites at a price that schools can afford–no cost,” Vigil said. “Clearly, it’s not at no cost to ZapMe!…We believe we’re able to do it in a non-obtrusive manner that’s appropriate for an educational environment, and students appreciate that these companies are out there helping them learn, giving them these tools.”

The brand imaging always appears in the same place–the lower left-hand corner of the browser–so it doesn’t sneak up on students, Vigil said. Also, ZapMe! encourages sponsors to develop educational messages rather than straight sales pitches in their advertisements.

“We wouldn’t accept an ad for ‘burgers, fries, and cokes for $1.99,’ for example,” Vigil said. “Instead, we might ask the sponsor to provide a message about the environment.”

According to the Center for Commercial Free Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Oakland, Calif., such advertising is even more insidious because it blurs the line between advertising and education.

But Ted Maddock, technology coordinator for Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, Calif., disagrees. Mt. Diablo has been using equipment provided by ZapMe! since May 1998, when the school agreed to beta test the network, and Maddock believes the ZapMe! ads are more innocuous than the banner ads that appear on most commercial web sites.

“ZapMe! is controlling the content of its ads, so there’s no ‘bait and switch’ where clicking on a banner ad takes you someplace you shouldn’t be,” he said.

Besides, sheltering students from advertising isn’t the answer, Maddock said: “Part of our job is to teach them how to discern for themselves what is of value and what’s not.”

If not for the offer of free computers and internet access, Maddock added, it’s unlikely that students at Mt. Diablo would have such easy access to technology.

Free-PC

http://www.free-pc.com

ZapMe!

http://www.zapme.com

American Association of School Administrators

http://www.aasa.org

Center for Commercial Free Public Education

http://www.commercialfree.org

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Web service converts files online instantly

With Convertafile, documents, graphics, data files, and sound files can all be converted to a user’s preferred format, according to Simon Reid, the site’s co-director. For example, WordPerfect documents can be converted to Word, MacPaint images to GIF files, and Excel spreadsheets to comma delimited data, Reid said.

In all, the site supports more than 70 file formats, he said.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than receiving a file or attachment you can’t use,” Reid said. “Convertafile gives you the flexibility to receive and dispatch a wide variety of file formats, without the expense of acquiring a range of software products.”

Commercial file conversion software has to be sourced, installed, and maintained. In contrast, Reid said, Convertafile is instantly accessible to anyone with a web browser. The service is straightforward, intuitive, and requires no training to use, he said.

When you select the file type you want to convert, a pop-up menu appears that tells you what formats the file can be converted into. You then choose the preferred format, select your file, and click “Convert.” The file is uploaded automatically and in moments is converted and ready to download, Reid said.

Useful to schools

The online conversion service might be especially useful to school districts, Reid said. Most districts support multiple platforms, and many use legacy software at some level of operation. Convertafile can aid interaction between PCs and Macs and help users of non-current formats read files created with newer software programs, Reid said.

As distance learning and other home-to-school communications become commonplace, students, teachers, and parents might appreciate having equal access to a common means of conversion, he added.

“Increasingly, students are submitting assignments in electronic form,” Reid said. “With many schools adopting this trend, Convertafile can assist educators to load a wide variety of file types. This provides flexibility and avoids time-consuming resubmission.”

Convertafile is available 24 hours a day and is free for small files. An unlimited number of text and data files up to 25K in size, graphics files up to 50K, and sound files up to 100K can be converted at no charge.

For larger files, Convertafile is available as a subscription service. Users can opt for a flat rate plan–where you pay by the conversion–or a monthly plan. “The monthly plan would be the best way to go for a school with multiple computers and users,” Reid said.

The Convertafile site uses a Verisign-protected server for secure, encrypted conversions over the internet, Reid said, and the company does not monitor, edit, view, or disclose the contents of any uploaded files unless required to do so by law. In addition, users can now delete their converted file from the Convertafile server for complete security once it is downloaded, he said.

Convertafile

http://www.convertafile.com

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Digital libraries are a college trend ripe for K-12

K-12 library media specialists should take note of a developing trend: Several college and university libraries have begun to trade their books for laptop computers that students can check out and use within the library for their research.

The most recent example is Pennsylvania State University, which tore the shelves out of its undergraduate library last summer, rewired the whole place, and turned it into the university’s first digital library. Now, students can come 24 hours a day, sign out one of 50 laptop computers, and plug in at a relatively private desk.

“The books are gone, the newspapers are gone, the journals are gone. And yet they aren’t really gone at all. They’re just available in a new format,” Provost John A. Brighton said as Penn State formally introduced the new library Feb. 10. “We invested in this library because we believe it will improve learning.”

A few hours later, junior Christine Williams sat before one of the computers studying for an 8:30 p.m. test in business administration.

She owns a laptop of her own, but it’s too slow. So she checked out a university laptop–with a fast Pentium II processor–and logged onto the university network. There, she could page through the slides her professor used during class lectures. It’s a far cry from laboring in a busy 200-terminal computer lab.

“No. 1, it’s more private. It’s comfortable. You have space to work with,” said Ms. Williams, 21, of Philadelphia. “And it’s convenient.”

Comfort factor

Aside from the absence of books, what’s different about Penn State’s new undergraduate library–one of several libraries on campus–is its comfort factor: Students can sit in a cubicle and study, rather than juggling papers and books at a regular computer terminal.

Students can still do all the usual things–go online, search dozens of electronic databases for journal and newspaper articles, browse an electronic encyclopedia, compose papers or spreadsheets. But they can’t take the laptops out of the library.

The machines in Penn State’s new library are equipped with Microsoft’s Office 97 suite of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and students are allowed to download plug-ins from the internet. When the laptops are checked back in, their hard drives are erased and the software is reinstalled for security purposes.

For its part, the library benefits by getting more study space. Instead of having a room full of computers or encyclopedias, the library has a room full of desks where students can either study or use a mobile computer. Students looking to check out books, meanwhile, can choose from eight other campus libraries.

Penn State is following the lead of other universities. Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis has a digital library, and Mansfield University of Pennsylvania launched its laid-back laptop library in 1996.

Penn State University

http://www.psu.edu

Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis

http://www.iupui.edu

Mansfield University

http://www.mnsfld.edu

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GW survey: School tech leaders are a savvy bunch

Educators have been taking a hit in the press lately about their level of comfort with technology. But a recent survey of eSchool News readers–the leaders most likely to purchase or manage technology in their schools–suggests they are very familiar with its use.

Led by Prof. Jane McDonald of the Department of Educational Leadership at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the study revealed that 83 percent of readers felt “very comfortable” with a computer, and 77 percent felt “very comfortable” with the internet. Less than one percent felt “uncomfortable” with either technology.

School district technology coordinators (27 percent), information technology directors (17 percent), and building-level technology directors (18 percent) made up the bulk of responses. Superintendents (6 percent), assistant superintendents (9 percent), library and media specialists (11 percent), and principals (2 percent) also responded.

Though it’s often said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, familiarity with technology clearly isn’t limited to a younger generation of educators. More than 55 percent of readers said they’ve spent 21 years or more in education.

Nor is technology strictly the province of men. Despite fears of a “technology gender gap” in our schools, no significant difference existed between the genders of respondents–51 percent were male, 49 percent female.

The study revealed that technology directors and coordinators wield the most responsibility for school district technology purchases: When asked to cite the single person most responsible for school technology purchases, 66 percent of respondents indicated technology directors. Superintendents were next at 12 percent, followed by assistant superintendents at 10 percent and principals at 7 percent.

The buying power of eSchool News readers is impressive as well: 66 percent of readers make the final purchasing decisions, while 72 percent recommend what brands to buy and 67 percent recommend expenditures.

While survey respondents were knowledgeable about technology, their knowledge for the most part didn’t come from formal schooling. Only 28 percent said they had a degree in technology, while 78 percent said they had learned through “on the job” training and 52 percent through independent study.

Reader interests

Despite the many administrative applications of technology, student learning remains the primary focus of school technology decision makers: According to the survey, desktop computers and curriculum software drew the most interest among readers.

Every survey respondent indicated some level of interest in desktop computers, and 98 percent expressed interest in curriculum software. Seventy-two percent of respondents indicated “great interest” in desktop computers, while 65 percent expressed “great interest” in curriculum software.

Somewhat surprisingly–and maybe indicative of a trend–laptop computers were the third-most popular items of interest. Ninety-seven percent of readers expressed interest in laptops, and 58 percent indicated “great interest” in laptops.

Network file servers and internet access also proved popular among readers. Ninety-five percent of readers expressed interest–and 65 percent expressed “great interest”–in internet access. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they use the internet at least 5 hours per week, and 68 percent use it mostly at school.

Educators also seem to be aware–and concerned–of the seedier side of the internet, if the study is any indication: Fully 91 percent of respondents expressed some interest in content filters, and 52 percent expressed “great interest” in filters.

Emerging technologies also sparked interest among readers. More than 87 percent of respondents expressed interest in fiber optics, 82 percent showed interest in wireless technologies, and 62 percent in satellite broadcasting and receiving.

One application of technology that sharply divided readers was surveillance. While 48 percent of respondents expressed interest in surveillance and 39 percent said use of surveillance devices has increased in their schools, 40 percent said they were concerned with how surveillance poses a threat to civil liberties or privacy.

eRate discounts and connectivity

While readers are overwhelmingly (93 percent) familiar with the eRate–the controversial federal program that gives telecommunications discounts to schools and libraries–they are somewhat less sure about applying. Only 76 percent said they applied in 1998, and 74 percent said they planned to apply in 1999.

The survey was taken before last year’s discounts were issued, which could explain why more than one-quarter of respondents harbored doubts about the program. Skepticism of the eRate ran high last fall as funding was first cut back, then delayed through a series of congressionally-mandated audits.

According to the survey, requests for discounts on plain old telephone service (POTS) were most common (72 percent) among readers who applied for the eRate last year. Requests for T1 or T3 lines were next, at 53 percent, then frame relay at 21 percent and dial-up access at 19 percent.

Source: George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development

http://www.gwu.edu

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High school students provide online tax help

Honor students at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va., are helping area residents prepare and electronically file federal and state tax returns.

Under a pilot program of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), eight Granby students have been trained to be volunteer tax preparers. The pilot is part of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance/Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA/TCE) program, which provides free tax help to communities across the country.

The Granby office is the first in its area to be staffed entirely with high school students and is also the only one to be dedicated exclusively to filing returns electronically.

The Granby students typically deal with people who earn less than $20,000 annually and who are filing returns using 1040EZ, 1040A, or 1040 forms–normally the least likely forms to cause major headaches when being prepared.

“It gets [the students] comfortable with taxes,” said local IRS tax education specialist Patsy Carroll. “It’s a part of life.”

Local IRS officials last September approached Granby business teacher Michael Lynch to see if she was interested in training students to be volunteers. Lynch has been teaching basic tax preparation to high school students for several years. She solicited the all-honor student crew from the school’s International Baccalaureate program and advanced accounting classes.

After several hours of training, the students completed a mock return online. Once Lynch and accounting teacher Janet Yankes were satisfied the students had mastered the material and the computer program, the Granby Tax Center was officially open for business.

The students file tax returns every Tuesday between 3 and 6 p.m. in the school’s career center. They will continue to do so until April 13.

So far, about three dozen residents have taken advantage of the free service.

Phyllis Robertson, a part-time cashier and student, heard about the service and figured she could get good, friendly tax help from the students. She first met Lynch and Yankes, who determined that Robertson qualified for the service.

Robertson then sat down at a computer terminal with student volunteer Chawanta Williams, who guided her through CNET’s TurboTax online filing program.

The company donated the program to help moderate and low-income taxpayers.

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Secret service tracks: high-tech teen forgers

The Secret Service is on the trail of teen-age counterfeiters making bogus bills at home and on school computers.

In the past 18 months, the Secret Service has investigated 12 counterfeit scams, seven of which involved juveniles, the Providence Journal reported March 8.

The cases involve teens from at least 10 Rhode Island school districts and three just over the border in Massachusetts.

In March, two Mansfield, Mass. teen-agers were taken into custody for allegedly making $665 in $5 and $20 bills on a home computer.

“When we respond to an allegation of a counterfeit note, we don’t know whether it’s an organized criminal group with possible drug involvement or a kid with a computer,” said John Enright, supervisory agent in charge of the Providence Secret Service Bureau.

Last April, two students allegedly tried to pass a pair of bogus $20 bills at the Coventry High School cafeteria. In September, a New Jersey man and a Providence youth were arrested after they allegedly tried to buy a cup of coffee with a fake $50 bill in Johnston.

In November, the North Providence police broke up a counterfeit ring where $4,000 in fake bills was circulated. Two people were charged, one a juvenile. In December, Pawtucket police broke up a counterfeit ring where two teens and three men were charged.

Police in Central Falls recently were called by a shop keeper who accused a teen-age girl of attempting to pass a counterfeit bill. Agents tracked down the source and confiscated two computer systems from two homes. Five juveniles are being charged in that case.

U.S. Secret Service

http://www.treas.gov/usss/

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14-year-old girl becomes youngest Intel science winner

The technology gender gap may be widening, but you wouldn’t know it from the 58th Annual Intel Science Talent Search, where a 14-year-old female student topped a winning list that included some of the country’s most tech-savvy high school students.

Science Service and Intel Corp. held an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. last month to announce the winners of the contest, which had until last year been sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Co. This year’s ceremony recognized its youngest ever first-place recipient.

Taking top honors was 14-year-old Natalia Toro of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., who will receive a $50,000 scholarship for her winning physics project. In addition to being the youngest winner in the 58 years of the award, Toro also became the second female student in the last 6 years to receive top honors.

The second-place finalist was David Moore, an 18-year-old senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. Moore will receive a $40,000 scholarship for his physics-oriented project. Moore serves as the network/system administrator at his high school.

Coming in third was another high school tech-whiz, 17-year-old Keith Winstein, a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora. Winstein won a $30,000 scholarship for a computer science project titled, “Lexical Steganography Through Adaptive Modulation of the Word Choice Hash.” His research focused on steganography, or techniques for embedding information in computerized data without making any perceptible change to the original material.

Winstein is the co-founder of the IMSA Advanced Computer Association and is a member of the American Computer Science League. He plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) next fall.

“These students represent the brightest young scientists in the country,” said Intel President and CEO Craig Barrett. “Our challenge and goal for the Intel Science Talent Search is to reward and recognize students who excel and achieve, to support teachers who go the extra mile to excite and involve their students, and to help parents stay involved in their children’s education.”

Students from all over the world submit research projects each year to the talent search. The top 300 entries this year were selected as semifinalists in January. Semifinalists earn recommendations for college acceptance and financial aid from Intel and Science Service.

The semifinalists were then pared down to a group of 40 finalists, who vied for a total of $330,000 in scholarship money. Finalists were judged on their individual research reports for their research ability, scientific originality, and creative thinking. All Intel Science Talent Search finalists were reviewed and judged by top scientists from a variety of disciplines.

The judges’ panel was led by chair J. Richard Gott, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. Gott placed second in the talent search in 1965.

“The Intel Science Talent Search is about finding better ways to do things, continuously asking why and, in the process, moving out the frontiers of knowledge,” remarked Dudley Herschbach, chairman of the board of Science Service and a Nobel laureate in chemistry. “Within these 40 young scientists lies the next great inventions and scientific achievements that will influence us in the 21st century.”

Promising future

Indeed, participation in the Science Talent Search has often served as a precursor to impressive accomplishments in the field of science.

Statistics show that some 95 percent of all finalists in the history of the contest have gone on to pursue a branch of science as their major field of study, while more than 70 percent have earned doctorate degrees.

Five former finalists have won Nobel Prizes and two have earned Fields Medals, the highest honor for achievements in mathematics. Other honors include Sloan Research Fellowships and MacArthur Foundation Fellowships. Many finalists have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering.

Intel assumed sponsorship of the contest in 1998 after years of its being known as the Westinghouse Award. Intel said it is working closely with Science Service–the administrator of the contest since its inception–to increase the number of high school students and teachers involved and to increase public awareness of the program.

Intel said it also wants to infuse computer and internet technology into the program as it moves into the 21st century.

Intel Corp.

http://www.intel.com

Science Service

http://www.sciserv.com

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