Seventh grade pioneers




by Tim Farkas


PITTSFIELD - This isn't the John Adams I remember.


The primary information about my John Adams came from the World Book Encyclopedia.


Pictures of my John Adams were found in reference books in my community library, two miles from my home.


The report on my John Adams was done with a pen and paper and was turned in to my teacher in a plastic report folder.


The facts remain the same: He was born in 1735, served under George Washington as the first vice president of the United States, became our second president - the first to live in the White House - and died in 1826.


But my John Adams didn't live in the computer age. No, in my day, in the fifth grade in 1971, laptop learning initiatives - such as the one being introduced to 711 seventh-graders in Pittsfield and North Adams this week - weren't even in the imagination.


My fifth-grade class's curriculum on U.S. presidents was one of the biggest projects I remember from elementary school.


Lots of research, lots of writer's cramp, lots of crossing out misspelled words and throwing away whole pages, and lots of angst.


If only I had had a computer to make things easier.


  By the end of this week, every seventh-grade student at Pittsfield's Reid and Herberg middle schools, North Adams' Conte Middle School and St. Mark School in Pittsfield will have a laptop computer as part of the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative, a three-year pilot program for the state that is designed to help improve student achievement and transform the way education is delivered in each city.


The $5.3 million program is supported by state, private and school funding and will spread to incoming seventh-graders in September and incoming sixth-graders in September 2007.


As part of the Pittsfield roll-out ceremony Friday at Clock Tower Business Park, nine demonstration tables were set up. One had a handout that described an example of how the laptops - an Apple iBook G4 - would be used in the classroom. The goal at that site was to "create an iPhoto project about a selected Founding Father."


The top of the handout proceeded thusly: material - laptop, Internet connection; programs - Safari browser, PowerPoint, iPhoto; directions - create an iPhoto project about John Adams.


On the following two pages, three steps were listed. Under the last step, "Give Your Slideshow a Personal Touch," the final sentence read: "Choose preview to check out your slideshow - when you are finished click PLAY. ENJOY."


(If there had been a "confused" category, I would have clicked that.)


  At the last demonstration table, removed from the crowds of the first few, was a student team under the heading "Internet Resources To Help Us Learn."


The team was composed of Jaymie Bateman, Sarah Moon, Scott Coty and Joshua Cormier, all seventh-graders at Reid Middle School, and Mitchell Hunt, a student at Herberg.


Moon said she started receiving laptop training in the sixth grade. She was recommended by teachers, got good grades and had to write a paragraph about why she was qualified to be a training leader.


She even helped her teachers.


"That was kind of weird," she said. "They're 20 years older than you, and you're helping them."


But did you enjoy that feeling, Sarah?


"Yeah," she said, smiling. "It was kind of like getting back at them. Revenge."


Enter the previous generation, a stop at the table by Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto.


"It's so fantastic," he said. "Everybody's dream is to put computers full time into the hands of students. I'm lucky to do Microsoft Word. You're so ahead of us, it's unbelievable."


Coty then talked about the most exciting aspects of the new computers.


"Being able to type. Looking in the dictionary in the computer. Checking your answers (immediately) in math. Not many people like writing. They prefer typing."


School administrators, city officials, business leaders and politicians spoke at the Pittsfield ceremony, but this day was about the kids.


Michael Supranowicz, co-chairman of the initiative's 11-member steering committee, asked the seventh-graders in attendance to stand. He then asked how many of them remembered the fourth grade.


After some hands went up, Supranowicz said: "That's how long we've been working on this project."


With the American flag flying at eye level outside the fifth floor of the building, committee chairman Donald Dubendorf invited six students to stand with him.


"I wanted to thank them for making us look good today," he said. "This is a wonderful day to take stock in who we are and who we want to be. The classroom technology that was satisfactory for George Washington isn't going to work today."




For every George Washington and John Adams, there is a Sarah Moon or a Scott Coty, those who take the first step.




So put down your pencils, folks. The new age of learning has begun.


Tim Farkas, The Eagle's executive editor, can be reached at (413) 496-6205 or at