By Jessica Samuel
Gifft Hill School students practice computer animation on their XO laptops during Waveplace’s recent pilot program.
International computer experts gathered on St. John last month for an unprecedented summit and to launch another One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program on Love City.
OLPC is an umbrella organization which manufactures affordable computers to be used by elementary school students across the globe. Suborganizations like Waveplace develop programs to specifically teach students how to use these laptops.
Founded in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by Tim Falconer, Waveplace has only been in existence for three years. Yet, within those three years the organization has managed to implement their computer mentorship program in countries like Nicaragua, Haiti, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This spring was the organization’s second visit to St. John. With the help of Jan Kinder, the organization’s vice president, the first visit was two years ago where it started the mentorship program at Guy Benjamin Elementary School in Coral Bay.
This year, however, with Beth Santos, Waveplace outreach coordinator, and Bill Stelzer, photographer and chief mentor, the organization introduced its program to Julius E. Sprauve and Gifft Hill Schools.
The program began on May 24 and wrapped up on June 2. Training a total of 60 students this year, the pilot programs took place for an hour and a half from 3:30 to 5 p.m. during all ten days.
At each school, there were about five mentors to a group of 20 students, consisting of third, fourth and fifth graders.
Mentors tend to already be in the teaching profession. However, this year Waveplace brought with them 12 volunteers from the Columbus School for Girls in Ohio.
These high school students were originally part of an initiative to get high school girls more involved in computer science by linking them with service projects.
Normally, Waveplace conducts a six-week pilot program where in the first two weeks Waveplace personnel train new local mentors in the mornings and both new mentors and personnel work with the students in the evenings.
In those two weeks trainees are acquainted with E-Toys, the programming animation and storybook writing software, and are instructed on how to teach the program to elementary students.
Due to Waveplace’s ongoing efforts with its pilot programs in Haiti, however, a shortage of staff made it difficult to have such an extended program this year on Love City.
Currently, Waveplace is running pilots in four schools in Haiti with 30 trained mentors. By the end of this year, however, the organization’s goal is to have pilots in ten schools and 100 trained mentors in the country.
Prior to the program’s recommencement this spring, there was a four-day summit at Maho Bay Camp which involved multiple organizations that also work under the OLPC group.
Guests included mentors from countries such as Afghanistan, Austria, Honduras and a bevy of other places. Evidently, OLCP has been quite a success in its international reach.
Each student participant of any pilot program under the OLCP is expected to keep the laptops after the end of each program. And this year students are not just left with the laptops but also an exciting project.
Waveplace coordinators left St. John students with the assignment of finishing their storybook program to be translated into Haitian Creole and used by Haitian students currently working with the same program. This learn and share component of the program will be reciprocated by Haitian students whose stories will be translated into English and sent back to St. John students.
Other prospective projects of Waveplace include a teacher training summer program which officials hope to launch sometime in August. Waveplace Director Falconer and his colleagues are working with the principals of all the three schools to make that program possible.
Alongside the long-term goal of providing every elementary school aged child on St. John with a laptop, Waveplace’s real dream behind these pilot programs is to introduce the computer to these students as a “kind of playground where they can explore abstract ideas in meaningful and fun ways.”
The E-Toys software program is really “a magic whiteboard” where students learn math and reading through stimulating interaction. This type of program helps to make students feel good about themselves and their learning abilities. And there is no other successful student that the one who is confident with his work.
As explained by Falconer, Waveplace’s “focus on the Caribbean is really to help bring a new industry of digital media.”
Such an industry would channel students’ creativity into computers and in return develop an industry in these U.S. Virgin Islands which would allow such interested students to make a living in the islands without having to leave.
In essence, one could say that the organization’s overarching aim is really to cultivate and preserve local talent — a goal for which many strive.