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CYBERKid Young Vincent Dawkins has sailed forth into the new world of computer literacy, and the American Library Associated is hoping other youngsters will follow his lead.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In yesterday's Today section, the incorrect funding organization was noted for the computer education program at the Pimlico branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The Whole New World Program at that branch is funded by the Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg Fund. The Annie E. Casey Foundation will fund the program at the Pennsylvania Avenue and Brooklyn branches.

The Sun regrets the error.

Ten-year-old Vincent Dawkins surfs through cyberspace toward the 21st century as confidently as Christopher Columbus sailed forth toward his new world.

Maybe a little more confidently.

Vincent Dawkins is a very confident young man, indeed.

He proved that last week in Washington, when he stood up before 3,000 delegates at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting and declared: "I have a license to drive on the information superhighway."

It was pretty much the message the ALA wanted to hear -- and to get across -- at its meeting this year. "Kids who aren't logged on and literate will be lost in the 21st century," was the way Mary R. Somerville, the ALA's president, put it.

But Vincent's declaration carried added meaning for the librarians, because he had earned his "license" at his local library, specifically through the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Whole World Program. The program introduces middle-school-age students to the computer and gives them access to the Internet. The ALA would like to see similar programs adopted nationwide.

"I think getting my license is a real privilege," Vincent said. He's the kind of kid who can make earnestness engaging. He's a fifth-grader at the Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School in Cedonia, which is where he lives. He uses computers all the way across town at the Hollins-Payson branch of the Pratt because his godmother, Cassandra Stewart, was his volunteer tutor in the program. But that's just the first leg of the trip.

"In the Whole New World Program I can go anywhere," he said. "I can communicate with people all over the world. And have discussions with other kids.

"I think more kids should be in the Whole New World Program because this program gave me something to do on Saturday morning other than sitting around watching TV and playing video games. Also, some kids who stand on the corner and deal drugs need something to do."

At the ALA convention, Vincent shared the platform with Somerville and Richard Riley, U.S. secretary of education. But back at his computer station at the Hollins-Payson library -- half-a-dozen blocks from the original Hollins Street branch where H. L. Mencken began his library adventures at about the same age -- Vincent says he didn't have stage fright before his big speech: "I wasn't even nervous.

"I got a standing ovation," he adds, not boastfully, just factually.

"His mother was more nervous than he was," says Joyce Dawkins, his beaming mother. "He is very confident with the stage."

Loves to speak

Vincent's an old hand at public speaking. He's given talks at his school, his church, which is Faith Baptist at Ashland Avenue and Bond Street, and at the Walters Art Gallery during Kwanzaa.

"It's something I like to do," Vincent says.

Vincent's actually an ideal spokesman for libraries, and not just because he's a new driver on the Internet autobahn.

"He reads for recreation," says Stanley Butler, 51, the manager of the Hollins-Payson branch and a veteran of 17 years with the Pratt. He sounds like a bibliophile who's found a Poe manuscript in his grandma's recipe file.

"With TV, computers and video games," he says, "you don't find a lot of kids who read for recreation these days. He's a library user."

And Vincent's not just a fan of R. L. Stine or "Goosebumps," either.

"I like to try to get into some of the thicker [books]," he says, a bit severely.

The Whole New World Program got its start -- with a grant from the ALA -- at Butler's branch, and at the Brooklyn, Broadway and Walbrook libraries. Just added to the program with help from the Annie E. Casey Foundation are the Pimlico, Brooklyn and Pennsylvania Avenue branches.

Participating kids go through a six- to eight-week training program, Butler says. "And we train volunteers to train the children. The program depends on volunteers.

"The bottom-line proposition," he says, "is that we work with kids who otherwise wouldn't have access to the technology."

The area around Hollins-Payson has been identified as an "at-risk neighborhood."

"But in terms of the children," Butler says, "we like to refer to them not as 'at risk' but rather 'children with potential.' The program was built around that thought. That these children have potential and we need to help them realize that."

About 35 children have completed the eight-week program at Hollins-Payson. The Whole New World Program guides kids from the keyboard to the World Wide Web. They learn to use the Prattcat online catalog, get an e-mail address and dispatch a letter to President Clinton.

Vincent read his letter at the ALA meeting. In it, he told Clinton he was worried about Baltimore city schools and asked for the president's help.

"I chose Vincent to represent us," Butler says. "I knew Vincent would represent us well. He's naturally articulate. He came here with eagerness. And he has strong parental support."

Joyce Dawkins, 44, is an employment development resource specialist for Covenant House, an international Catholic organization that provides services for youth at risk. Vincent's father, Thomas Dawkins, 46, is an auto worker at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway. Cassandra Stewart, his godmother and tutor, is administrative assistant to Helen Holton, City Council member from the Fifth District.

Vincent has regularly been an honor student at Hazelwood.

"I'm pretty smart," he says, with a naive candor that's not without its charm. "I like math and I'm an ace at reading. I'm pretty good and I read at a seventh-grade level."

But he's more computer jockey than computer nerd. He's pretty much a regular kid. He's in the advanced class at the Mount Pleasant ice skating rink, he's a good in-line skater, he's got a purple belt in karate and he loves "Jurassic Park."

Surfing the 'Net

While talking with a reporter, he's also been surfing the Internet. Suddenly he skids to a halt at the Web site occupied by "Lost World," the "Jurassic Park" sequel due out on Memorial Day. He types in his e-mail address and a comment: "I have seen the original 'Jurassic Park' four times "

"I think NBA Inside Stuff is really cool," he says. That's the professional basketball Web site. He also likes a computer game called "Letter Invaders," one of the few Stanley Butler doesn't frown on.

"You have to stop all these letters from bombing your city," Vincent says. It's actually a keyboard exercise. "This is good for people to enhance their typing skills."

But his favorite Web site at the moment is the TVFood Network. "I am very interested in the art of cooking," he told the ALA delegates. "I've been cooking for about seven months."

His interest is home-grown. His mother and his godmother run a catering business called Eclectic Kitchen, and he helps out.

"He loves to cook," Joyce Dawkins says, "and not just the cooking, but the presentation of cooking is important to him."

"Plus he's a great taster," says Butler.

After his day in the ALA spotlight, Vincent did just that with his family at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a Washington landmark.

But when the 21st century rolls around, Vincent is pretty sure he wants to be a computer science engineer. It's going to be a whole new world out there, he says.

"Most jobs in the 21st century are going to depend on your knowledge of computers," Vincent says. If that's so, he's in good shape, already on the information superhighway's fast track.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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