The Anne Darling Elementary School technology club has abandoned the traditional candy and wrapping-paper fund-raisers in favor of something a little more tech-savvy—and harmonious—with a new online fundraiser that allows kids to produce and sell their own compact discs.

The San Jose-based elementary school’s students are climbing the internet music charts with their originally written and performed MP3 songs about throwing rocks, spiders, and eating cafeteria food, available on the MP3.com web site.

So popular are the kids’ rendition of “Girls Rule!” and “I Ain’t Throwin’ No Rock” that they’ve earned more than $650 this year from online CD sales and playback earnings through MP3.com. In October, they garnered an additional $35,500 in organizational contributions for their school.

The after-school program for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders began last year with the modest goal of bringing internet access to all classroom computers. But the tech club’s popularity soon blossomed—an online student poll found computers tied in popularity with recess and art at the school.

Naturally, creating pop songs wasn’t far behind. Anne Darling was the one of the first schools to use MP3.com, according to technology club director Richard Soos.

MP3.com formed the Spirit 2000 fund-raising program after seeing the success that educators at schools such as Anne Darling were having using the site.

“We wanted to find new ways to get people to actively participate in our site, and we noticed that several schools already had material on our site at the end of last year,” said Chris Montgomery, vice president of subscription services at MP3.com and a former teacher.

“We thought that if we could give schools the ability to make CDs of their music, then they could sell those CDs as a fund-raising tool. What parent wouldn’t want to buy a CD of their child’s music?”

The Spirit 2000 program allows students from the music, drama, and even athletic departments to create, record, and promote music, spoken word, and other audio files and sell them online.

MP3.com provides most of the necessary resources for schools to participate, including online lesson plans, guides for educators, and a custom web page for each school. The company also assists in the marketing, promotion, manufacturing, and distribution of finished CDs within the campaign.

Company officials explained that schools do not need to purchase expensive recording equipment to participate. “The most simple recording system is two microphones and a tape deck. The next level up would be to get a four-track recorder,” said Montgomery.

MP3.com believes the power of the program goes far beyond fund-raising. “This is a curriculum-enhancement tool as well as a fund-raising tool,” Montgomery said. “By going through the process of recording and selling their own music, kids can learn about music theory, music history, audio technology, business and marketing, and really almost any other subject you can think of. These kids are learning about a whole industry.”

“The kids started off asking me if they could make a CD and things blossomed. They learned how to do internet research, how to make a CD, how to manipulate sound files on a computer, and how to upload and download files and correspond with experts via eMail,” Soos added.

To participate, educators must register their students as new artists on MP3.com.

Anne Darling Elementary is one of 200 schools that have uploaded music onto MP3.com. An additional 150 schools have signed up for the program and are waiting to turn their music into MP3 files and upload them to the site’s network, Montgomery said.

According to Montgomery, Spirit 2000 helps schools make money in three ways.

“First, we make a CD of [students’] recordings and sell it online for them. We split the proceeds 50-50 with the school, and there is no minimum number of CDs to buy. Once a parent or customer buys a CD on the site, only then is the CD burned and the booklet printed. That way, there is less inventory and no risk to us,” Montgomery said.

MP3.com lets school officials choose the price of the CD they wish to sell. Usually, a CD will cost $8.99, but the cost can range from $5.99 to $15.

“The second way to make money is what we call ‘payback for playback.’ Every month, MP3.com pays out $1 million to the people who are listening to our site. Any free music qualifies for a small portion of that money,” said Montgomery.

“The third way to make money is through our subscription audio channels. Parents can sign up for that and check the music updates more regularly. This way, we can create a backlog of audio content, which can be compiled into an audio yearbook at the end of the year.”

According to Soos, Anne Darling’s involvement with MP3.com has generated other money for the school as well.

“We are blessed because the business world sees the advantage to having children participate directly in the utilization of technology as an everyday tool,” he said. In addition to other awards, the school has received an Internet Innovator’s Award for $33,500 from National Semiconductor and another $2,000 from Intel and the city of San Jose.

“I have the students who participated last year tutoring three or four students apiece this year. I am hoping by May of 2001 that each classroom will have their own CD yearbook based upon the leadership of the students who participated last year,” said Soos.

What do the kids think about the program? “We can make our own web pages,” boasted fifth-grader David Medeiros. “It’s fun because we’re singing songs and stuff like that and we get to pretend we’re famous.”

If Grammies were given out for enthusiasm, the students at Anne Darling would be shoe-ins. “Cafeteria food, tastes so rude, sausage and mush, green fish sticks!” begins the song “Cafeteria.” “No, no, no, no. I ain’t throwin’ this rock,” sings another student in the technology club.

Rhyming lyrics play second-fiddle to volume and enthusiasm on technology club tunes, while Soos provides bouncy, computer-generated background music. “Parents are extremely proud of their children and very happy to see their children crossing what is commonly known as the digital divide,” said Soos.

“There is definitely a ‘cool factor’ for kids. MP3.com is a huge web site, and kids put a lot of pride into what they put on the site,” Montgomery said.

Anne Darling Tech Club

http://www.annedarling.com/schoolkids

Schoolkids on MP3.com

http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/64/school_kids.htm l