Friday, May 18, 2001

Bobby Voit ignored the dignitaries in his classroom yesterday and focused on the dinosaur puzzle on his computer screen instead.
“I like to play on the computers,” said the 5-year-old, a kindergartener at the Arylawn YMCA Program Center in Bethesda. “But there are lots of other things I can do with it.”
His answer likely pleased his teacher and the county and state officials who attended a ceremony yesterday at the YMCA to mark the donation of 250 computers from the Maryland State Department of Education to the six YMCAs in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties.
Silver Spring YMCA, Prince Georges YMCA, Upper Montgomery County YMCA, Bethesda Youth Services and YMCA Camp Letts in Anne Arundel County received computers yesterday.
The donations will reach at least 400 preschoolers and kindergarteners, many of them underprivileged, and several adults in the areas YMCAs, said Angie Reese-Hawkins, chief of the Metropolitan Washington Area YMCAs.
“Computers drive everything we do … . If we leave our children out now, it will be more difficult for them to be productive members of society in the future,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.
Bobbys computer was one of about two dozen computers donated yesterday to the Arylawn center. The computers are worth $100,000, officials said.
All computers came through Project Reboot of the Phoenix Project, a 7-year-old state Board of Education program that takes in donations of old computers from businesses and government agencies and gets volunteers to refurbish them. The computers are then loaded with software, including Microsoft Windows, Word and database programs.
The project so far has donated more than 12,000 computers to schools and community programs in Maryland, including public schools and faith-based groups with an education focus.
The state Department of Education now has about 1,000 computers it plans to donate, including the donations to the YMCAs yesterday, said Darla Strouse, executive director of partnerships for the state Department of Education.
“The YMCAs are doing a lot for public-school students,” said Ms. Strouse, adding that her departments aim is to have one computer per student in the state.
Currently, some school districts in the state like Prince Georges County and Baltimore have very low ratios of computers to student, Ms. Strouse said.
Yesterday, a gift of 20 laptop computers also was made to underprivileged children at the YMCA.
The YMCA donations would help ease the digital divide, said Deputy Superintendent of Schools James A. Williams. “We need to have the right technology for our children to grow,” he said, adding that the countys goal was to have one computer for every three children.
The county planned to install 40,000 computers in classrooms as part of a long-range plan, he said.
As yesterdays ceremony wrapped up, Bobby continued to hang around, waiting to solve that last bit of the puzzle before his teacher, Frances Wright, managed to draw him away.
Ms. Wright said the computers would make a great difference to her classrooms from now on.
“We had a computer lab, but this is the first time we will have computers in classrooms,” she said. “This will give the children many more opportunities for learning.”

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