200 Volunteers Connect With Their Schools

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At Bedford Open School in Camarillo, Saturday was a low-tech day on the road to a high-tech future.

About 15 volunteers climbed ladders, crawled through dusty ceilings, drilled holes in walls and installed wires to create a network that soon will allow the school to connect 12 of its classrooms to the Internet.

"This is wonderful," said Principal Julie Cavaliere, who spent no money on the project. "All of this was donated."

The thousands of feet of wire, plugs and connectors were furnished by local high-technology companies as part of NetDay 96, a statewide grass-roots effort to wire all California schools to the Internet.

Billed as a "high-tech barn raising," NetDay gained national attention after John Gage, chief scientist at computer maker Sun Microsystems, conceived the project nearly a year ago.

In Ventura County, about 200 volunteers joined in efforts to wire more than two dozen schools.

Loren Couplin, whose son, Jayce, is a fourth-grader at Bedford, organized the volunteers at that school. They both use the Internet at home and are excited about its potential uses in the classroom.

"I used the Internet to help me with a project on California missions," Jayce said. "I found more information than I can think of. I was able to walk through the whole mission."

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Much of the planning for NetDay happened on the Internet itself. Organizers set up an Internet site with maps showing every school in California. The site also provided forms for volunteers to sign up and plan activities.

"Don and I have never met until today," Couplin said about fellow volunteer Don Brusselar. "But we've been corresponding through the Internet for weeks."

Couplin met with Cavaliere a few weeks ago to walk through the school with the district's director of maintenance and operations. They also secured the services of employees of Pacificom, a local telecommunications company, who volunteered to wire two of the school's four wings.

To complete its connection to the Internet, the school needs to connect the two wired wings to the main office, Cavaliere said, adding that she expects that connection to be installed soon.

At Las Colinas Elementary, also in Camarillo, Principal Robert Donahue met with Lorraine and Carlos Villarreal, two retired Pacific Bell employees.

"This is our neighborhood," Lorraine Villarreal said. "My husband learned about NetDay on the Internet, and we decided we wanted to volunteer for our neighborhood schools. Today we have to devise a plan to figure out where the wiring is going."

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The three looked over architects' drawings and sorted through hundreds of wires in the school's connector boxes. With 2,000 feet of donated wire and volunteer efforts, the estimated $5,000 project will be free to the school.

"Las Colinas has two sets of about six computers on wheels that teachers can roll into their classrooms," Donahue said. "Students are learning to put together multimedia presentations. The missing piece is the Internet."

Currently, the only teacher at Las Colinas with access to the Internet in the classroom is English and history teacher Rita Neumeister, who is also the advisor for the school's award-winning newspaper.

Neumeister discovered the potential of the Internet two years ago when her students exchanged electronic mail with their Brazilian counterparts. At the time, Brazil was going through a constitutional reform process, and the South American students wanted to find out how American youngsters felt about their own Constitution.

"That opened my eyes to what the possibilities are," Neumeister said. "I want my world history class to become global education. The implications for education are incredible."

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Neumeister, who connected her classroom through a modem she purchased herself, hopes NetDay will be the first step in bringing the Internet to all the classrooms at Las Colinas.

In one of the most successful NetDay efforts in Ventura County, a group of 20 volunteers wired all the classrooms and the library at Somis Elementary, a small rural school.

The school will now have access to the vast resources on the Internet, said volunteer and Somis School board member Drew Sutherland.

Sutherland forecast a brighter future for Somis students as he crawled amid layers of insulation in the ceiling above a classroom. "The Internet will bring everyone on a level playing field," he said.

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