Press Releases Index

October 3, 2005
CONTACT: Faith Jackson
Office of University Relations
908-737-NEWS (6397)

Kean University Launches Laptop Initiative for Public-School Students

UNION, N.J. - Students at McGinnis Middle School in Perth Amboy, N.J. attended an assembly on September 20 that they will never forget. Thanks to a groundbreaking initiative launched by Kean University, the sole purpose of the event was to grant each young person his or her very own Apple laptop computer with wireless capability. "Kean is the first university in the nation to embark on such an endeavor in local K-12 public schools," said Cheryl Lemke, president and CEO of the Metiri Group, which is nationally known for its advocacy and research in advancing effective uses of technology in schools and is one of the companies Kean partnered with on this project. "Today's student has grown up in a world shaped by globalization, knowledge work, and technological innovation. The probability that McGinnis Middle School students will be up to the challenges of the 21st Century has increased tremendously with today's launch of Kean's innovative laptop-for-every-student program. An important feature of the program is the research study Kean has commissioned to assess the impact of this initiative on student learning."

Designed to improve student learning in urban districts, the program serves to better connect classroom instruction with the preferred learning mode for today's children. "The one-to-one laptop initiative that Kean University has introduced in the Perth Amboy school district is truly representative of our mission: to provide access to quality education to as many students as possible," said Dr. Dawood Farahi, president of Kean University. "By bringing wireless laptops to the students, we provide them access to an incredibly rich and up-to-date array of information from across the world. We are eager to continue our work with Perth Amboy on this unique project. We believe that it will serve as a model for other districts."

This project was funded in part by Kean's five-year $5.8 million federal education grant for New Jersey Consortium for Middle School Teacher Preparation (NJCMSTP), which aims to prepare highly qualified teachers and improve student learning in middle schools in New Jersey's high-need districts. Kean is one of only 25 universities in the nation, and the only one in the state, to have earned this grant. Dr. Michael Searson, dean of Kean's College of Education, designed the laptop project under this program. "If we took a snapshot of contemporary youth, it would portray them immersed in digital learning environments," said Searson, who drew on his 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and university educator to understand the value of this project for middle-school students. "They access information through the Internet, communicate with peers through e-mail and Instant Messenger, and listen to music through MP3 players. Although this image is widely accepted as representing today's young people, not all children have access to these tools. Kean hopes to level this playing field somewhat by making this technology available to students in urban districts."

Dr. Gail Hilliard-Nelson, NJCMSTP project director, noted that the average passing rate on 8th-grade statewide achievement tests in high-need districts is 43.92 percent. "We intend to significantly improve these educational outcomes," she said. "We believe that having access to the latest technology will make a huge difference in the educational environments of these children." To support the project, Kean and its partners, such as Apple Computer, Inc., provided rich professional development opportunities to Perth Amboy faculty and staff. District participants responded by engaging in hundreds of hours of workshops, conferences and institutes over the summer in preparation for the upcoming school year. "Recent initiatives in educational technology have allowed Kean to establish partnerships with Apple, the Buck Institute for Education, the Center for Digital Storytelling, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation," said Searson. "These organizations are valuable sources of information and support for the laptop initiative. We owe a debt of thanks to all the project partners, including the U.S. Department of Education and the Perth Amboy school district. This initiative could not have been realized without the support and coordination among many dedicated partners. The opportunity to provide powerful learning tools to students in urban settings and to work with their teachers in significant professional development training is one of the most exciting projects I've had in my professional career."

As they launch the school year, the Kean University team and personnel as well as students at Perth Amboy are delighted to have embarked on this new project. John M. Rodecker, superintendent of the Perth Amboy district, was present at the September 20 program, and shared his enthusiasm with the McGinnis students. "We are so excited about this project because it has never been done before," he said. "The people at Kean University have invested a significant amount of money and time into these machines to help improve your learning experience. We think that the odds are in our favor that this is the best thing to happen to McGinnis School." Also in attendance was Dr. Vivian Rodriguez, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning services in the district and vice chair of the Kean University Board of Trustees. She also had a special message for the young scholars. "We believe that you are going to outperform everybody in this district," she said. "You are so special, because you now have this technology. It is a gift, but also a great responsibility." Roland Jenkins, the principal of McGinnis School was equally exuberant. "We are so thankful to Kean University for bringing this wonderful project to us," he said. "I look forward to seeing some great things coming out of this

NJCMSTP is led by Kean University and brings together Rowan and Rider universities, their colleges of education, liberal arts and sciences; and the 4,240-student-strong local school districts of Bridgeton, Perth Amboy, Trenton, Piscataway and Woodbury. Additionally, the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J., Buck Institute for Education and Apple Computer, Inc. are active members.