Program meant to expose youths to computers


William Hayward, an eighth-grader at Woodlawn Middle School, knows his way around a computer.

Peering into a dismantled computer, he points out its key components - the hard drive is "where most of the information is stored," he says - while classmates discuss the differences between floppy drives and DVD drives and how to install a video card.

William was part of a student delegation that joined parents, school officials and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings on Friday to unveil a partnership between Dell Computers and Baltimore County public schools.

The technology exchange program, called TechKnow, is designed to teach basic computer skills to low-income middle school pupils who may not otherwise have access to computers, Dell officials say.

As part of a three-year program, Dell will provide Woodlawn Middle and Lansdowne Middle with 80 refurbished computers each year. The schools will each select 40 seventh-graders to participate in a two-week summer camp taught by Baltimore County computer technicians. Pupils will be selected for the camp based on criteria "linked to attitude - respectful, responsible and safe behavior," Woodlawn Principal Jerilyn Roberts said.

The camp will provide pupils with experience in assembling computers, troubleshooting hardware problems, loading software and navigating the Internet.

At the end of the summer camp, each pupil will take home a computer and will be given one year of free Internet access.

The goal is to make more pupils as knowledgeable about computers as William, who says he wants to become a video game programmer.

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said he believes that this program will help to "provide a quality education for all our children" by leveling the technological playing field.

Three other eighth-graders joined William to help officials introduce the project. Although these eighth-graders are too old for the program, they said they recognize the difference it can make for younger pupils.

Jasmine Dixon, 13, said she believes the program will help prepare pupils for a world where computer proficiency is a must. She thinks the program will inspire "more respect for learning."

Programs like TechKnow "bring out the good stuff" that the district is doing, said 13-year-old Aundrea Barnwell.

Samrendar Sahra said he thinks the program is "cool because the computer you build, you actually get to take home."

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