Wireless initiative reaches $1 million goal



PITTSFIELD - Three years after its inception, the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative has reached its private sector fundraising goal of $1 million.

With a final donation of $100,000 from Burger, run by Spice restaurant owners Joyce Bernstein and Lawrence Rosenthal, the initiative has raised $1,040,650 in total since January 2005. BWLI is also funded with state dollars and money from each participating school district.

"The local business community has provided very generous support to the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative," said Perri Petricca, co-chairman of BWLI's fundraising committee and president and CEO of Petricca Industries, in a statement released Tuesday. "They recognize the value of giving our students the tools they need to solve problems, conduct research and communicate effectively. These are skills that will serve students well throughout their education and as members of the work force."

The initiative has distributed laptops to more than 2,300 students at Reid, Herberg, St. Mark middle schools and St. Joseph's High School in Pittsfield and Conte Middle School in North Adams as part of a pilot program that "tests a 1:1 approach (one laptop for every student and teacher) of using laptop computers and wireless communication to transform teaching and learning."

Born from a collaboration of Berkshire Connect Inc., Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, BWLI aimes to improve students' academic and research skills, help them learn to work more effectively in groups and enhance their creativity.

Announced on Tuesday night at a ceremony at Spice restaurant, reaching the fundraising goal allows BWLI to complete its pilot program.

Following this school year, after the pilot program has concluded, the participating schools plan to continue using laptops on a 1:1 basis in the middle schools, according to the statement. High schools are also being considered for future laptop initiatives.

BWLI utilizes Boston College's Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative, part of the Lynch School of Education, to evaluate the pilot program in the following areas:

   Enhanced student achievement as shown through test scores, grades, and assessments;

   Increased student engagement as shown through attendance, disciplinary data, and classroom participation;

   Fundamental changes in teaching strategies, curriculum delivery methods, and classroom management;

   Enhanced capabilities among students to conduct independent research and collaborate with peers.

According to a news release, to date, BWLI evaluation results show that middle school students regularly use technology to take notes in class, complete practice tests, write and edit papers, create spreadsheets and find information on the Internet. The release further states that teachers report that the increased access to technology has resulted in improved student engagement and enthusiasm, a willingness of students to write more frequently, and an overall improvement in students' work across all major subject areas.