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SCHOOLS | South Colby unveils new computer lab through grant

South Colby Elementary School students (left to right) Abigail Vazquez-Johnson, Paich Harness, Eliana Painter and Kayleigh Dameral try out the new computers during an unveiling by GTECH on March 25. - Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo
South Colby Elementary School students (left to right) Abigail Vazquez-Johnson, Paich Harness, Eliana Painter and Kayleigh Dameral try out the new computers during an unveiling by GTECH on March 25.
— image credit: Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo

A room that featured one of South Kitsap School District’s last chalkboards last spring now is one of its technology hubs.

Room 7 at South Colby Elementary School is lined with 15 computers thanks to a $25,000 grant it received from GTECH’s After School Advantage Program.

GTECH’s Washington Account Development Manager Bobby Hatam, who celebrated the lab's opening Monday morning, said the program launched in April 1999 to help children at schools “in need” gain access to computers. South Colby marked the 201st launch of the After School Advantage Program.

Hatam said most are within the United States, but there also are labs in Colombia, Canada, Jamaica and Trinidad.

The Providence, R.I., company serves as an information technology provider to government authorized lotteries. Hatam said that enables GTECH to regularly perform maintenance checks on the computer labs when its technicians service lottery centers at local grocery and convenience stores.

Hatam said he has launched 13 labs in 15 years with GTECH. He said the one at South Colby, which opened in 1956, was the most challenging. The school’s infrastructure presents challenges — it was the second-lowest ranked building in the district last September when the Education Service District 112 Construction Services Group did its annual building condition assessment.

Hatam and principal Brian Pickard initially were not sure whether the building could be wired for WiFi and contemplated using a portable for the lab. That was ruled out, he said, because of security concerns.

Work on Room 7, which was retired sixth-grade teacher Bonnie Kimball’s classroom since 1983, began in September. The room since has been repainted and underwent other modifications to house the new laptops, two printers, six tables, a laptop charging cart, headphones, external speakers and wireless hubs.

“This one took a little bit longer than we’re normally used to because the infrastructure is pretty dated,” said Hatam, adding that GTECH usually aims to complete two classroom projects in the time it took to finish the one at South Colby. “He didn’t have the electrical structure to support it or the paint or carpet. This lab needed a lot of work.”

Hatam expressed concern whether the infrastructure challenges made the project viable. But Pickard said Hatam and district and school staff, as well as community members, were determined.

“It was the classic teamwork of people,” he said. “It was the ultimate in problem solving to find ways that we can do it. Now look at the opportunities these kids have.”

While Hatam is experienced in setting up computer labs, this one was a little different. Hatam said GTECH gives nonprofits flexibility in creating a center to fit their individual needs. School officials elected to invest in video production, which includes digital and video cameras, in addition to the computers.

Pickard believes the transition will fit well for the approximately 450 kindergarten through sixth-grade students at the school. The new technology, he said, allows students to immerse themselves into a project in much greater detail than the ones their elders utilized through book reports.

“Now these kids can go online and use pictures, video and interview other kids or themselves about it,” he said. “It’s a commercial for the book. They’re learning and using skills that they’ll be able to use not only now, but will be able to learn and build upon it.”

For many students, Pickard said, the lab provides an extension to what they have been exposed to from a young age at home. Now, it will be accessible to all of them. In addition to being open during school hours, an after-school program will keep the room open until 5 p.m. or perhaps even later.

“We kind of as adults show them some pieces and tools,” Pickard said. “They pull it together and create new ideas and twists to things we sometimes don’t think of. That’s part of that process of developing their creativity and their knowhow. They’ve grown up with this technology.”

C.J. Piccio, 10, was among the fourth-graders examining the Animoto video-production equipment. He marveled at the changes that have occurred in the room since Kimball retired.

“Now we have kids making videos, taking pictures and making them into slideshows,” Piccio said. “We have a whole bunch of good things in here.”

Sixth-grade twins Ben and Emily Riehl, 12, used the laptops to work through activities ranging from subtraction to video editing.

“It’s going to help with all of the projects we do,” Emily said.

Because the school has WiFi, Pickard said teachers can use that technology is the classroom, as well. He said that addition, which required some extra funding from South Colby’s Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO), also will make future technological upgrades easier. In addition to the computers purchased through GTECH’s grant, PTSO helped South Colby purchase 20 additional laptops.

“The opportunity this gift gives to South Colby’s current and future students is truly remarkable,” Pickard said. “This is an exciting time for the entire South Colby family.”

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