The nation's top dogs may have stolen the show during NetDay '96 when they helped wire a Concord high school to the Internet Saturday. But just south of the media blitz a group of diligent SF State students were also at work, hooking South San Francisco High School into cyberspace.
Getting schools online across California was the idea behind NetDay '96. Providing elementary through high school students access to the vast resources and information found on the Net was the hope of its organizers. Even President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore showed their support by lending a hand in Concord. In the Bay area, affluent schools like Walter Hays Elementary School in Palo Alto used new technology, not yet available to the public, to capitalize on its already-existing access, while virtually unwired schools like South San Francisco High were grappling with basic cabling and networking problems.
"I'd say 25 percent of our kids have computers at home," said Carole Eiserloh, library media teacher at the high school. To demonstrate students' economic situations, she said the same amount of students are in the school's free lunch program.
About a dozen SF State students assisted South San Francisco High, arriving at 8 a.m. Some stuck their heads in the pink fiberglass innards of the school's ceiling to string cable, and others sat frustrated in front of computers "that just wouldn't talk to each other."
The SF State students were from professor Pete Seel's New Technologies course, a class offered for the first time this semester by the broadcasting and electronic communication arts department. The class aims to teach not only about the Internet and other online services, but to question the form and content of information broadcast in cyberspace.
Seel and his students got involved with the local high school because they were interested in furthering equality and access to technology for schools other than those in Silicon Valley, he said.
After NetDay, BECA webmaster Andy Brooks will continue nurturing South San Francisco High students by helping to design the school's World Wide Web site, which will link to the BECA's site.
Along with the excitement of NetDay '96 came criticism for its lofty ideals. Many said because schools lack even basic resources like library books, access to the Internet should not be a priority.
Eiserloh, the technology spark plug at South San Francisco High, disagrees. "NetDay" has actually been several years in the making for the school, as she's pursued and received funds from the private sector to renovate the school's existing library into a multimedia center.
She knocked down the shelves, she said, and brought in the computers. People laughed at her when she bought her first computer with a CD-ROM drive. Today, students spend their lunch hour in the library checking out CDs from of the hundreds the library now owns, she said.
Getting all campus computers hooked up to the Internet has been one of the school's long-term goals. After Saturday, each of the school's computers in the library and most of the computers in each classroom will have Net thanks to SF State students, community volunteers and donations from computer firms.
"We've been dying to get everybody on the Internet," Eiserloh said.
She said the school library's multimedia slant serves the largely immigrant student population especially well. More than 19 primary languages are spoken at South San Francisco High and nearly 35 percent of students are immigrants, who are learning English at the school, she said.
"They get the spoken word and it comes up visually," Eiserloh said, about some of the students. "(Using the computers) they can go as slow as they want and they are learning on an individual basis so nobody is threatening to them."
Carlos Azucar, SF State senior in BECA, wants to use the advancements made in South San Francisco and apply them to San Francisco's Mission district schools.
"Among the Latino population we have a really high rate of drop-out. Kids are not comfortable in the environment. If they know about computers they might be more comfortable with their peers," Azucar said.
South San Francisco High is 35 percent Latino, according to Eiserloh.
SF State students said they were pleased with the time they spent time helping the high school implement its new resources, but some walked away with a beef.
Azucar complained, "They have better stuff here than we do at school. In the creative arts labs we have 15 computers for 1,500 students."
Images and a description of the event will be available on the BECA web site at http://www.sfsu.edu/~beca.
[ Golden Gater Online March 12, 1996 ]
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