Tech initiatives blossom on Berkshires and Cape



by Efrain Viscarolasaga


While many new learning initiatives for middle- and high-school students are born in and around Massachusetts' major cities, two groups at opposite ends of the state are working to bring technology -- and the technical prowess to work in the industry -- to students.


The Cape Cod Technology Council and the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative have both installed new programs this year to introduce students to technology and the careers within the industry.


To the west, state and local funding has spurred the Berkshire initiative to launch its one-to-one learning program in January. The program aims to put one laptop in the hands of every middle-school student. The first phase brought Apple iBook laptop computers to more than 700 seventh-grade students in North Adams and Pittsfield -- complete with in-school wireless connectivity. In anticipation of the program, 175 teachers received their own laptops last summer, as well as one-to-one teaching instruction from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), one of the partners behind the program.


"Clearly, education is changing," said Jim Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance at the MCLA and co-chair of the initiative's steering committee. "There is hardly a day when you or I go through a day in our professional lives without using technology. We wanted to expose students to that beyond just the Internet."


The program was funded by a combination of local communities, the MCLA and the state, through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. And while the wireless initiative raised $6 million for the first phase, it is in the process of raising more for next year's class, which Stakenas hopes will include sixth and eighth graders, in addition to seventh graders.


Student response to the program has been excellent, said Stakenas -- even if the students are not yet allowed to take their laptops home.


Overall, the program hopes to distribute more than 2,300 wireless laptops to middle-school students and teachers over the next three years, according to Mike Supranowicz, steering committee co-chair of the BWLI and vice president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.


To the southeast, the Cape Cod Technology Council has a new collaboration with Cape Cod Community College to help make high-school students aware of careers in science, technology, engineering and math.


"The first goal is to expand student interest in science and technology in grades six through 12, either by helping to encourage interest in students already involved or spark interest in new students that may send them down a career path," said Phyllis Russell, coordinator of the council's "Jr. Tech Council" program.


The program kicked off with three workshops for students over the recent February vacation. The three two-day seminars introduced students to careers that include technology.


For instance, one workshop addressed the pressing needs and technological solutions surrounding alternative energy, according to Russell. Students discussed alternative power, and Richard Lawrence of The Cape and Islands Self Reliance Corp. in Falmouth walked the students through related technologies, including solar and wind power. On the second day of the workshop, students were asked to design and build models of wind turbines.


The technology council is in the process of developing new workshops for April vacation, including a solar-energy workshop, in which students will examine and then build a small, solar-powered vehicle. The student teams will have the opportunity to race their vehicles in preparation for the Junior Solar Sprint, an annual race of solar-powered model vehicles sponsored by the Cape and Islands Self Reliance Corp. and the North East Sustainable Energy Association, to be held in early June. | 617-241-4334