For glimpse of future, look in these classrooms

Private academy uses Facebook-like network; Napa high based on tech

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SANTA ROSA -- Schools serving students from kindergarten to college are making use of the constant forward movement of technology to better instruct students both inside and out of the classroom.

Sonoma Academy, founded in 1999, is a small, private high school with a student body of roughly 220. Each student gets a laptop as part of their school supplies and is linked, though the wireless network, to the Internet and to every student and teacher on campus.

This allows students to write, create presentations, graph equations, create art, edit videos, create Web sites and collaborate on projects with other students.

The school provides and maintains the computers.

“The students are incredibly tech savvy,” said the head of the school, Janet Durgin, “and they are always willing to help new students.”

Ms. Durgin said the students already spend so much time on the computers at home on Facebook that they enjoy that sort of communication.

Through the school system, students communicate in a way they are comfortable with and use in their everyday and personal lives.

“By using the computers at home, we are extending the classroom in both space and time,” she said.

If a film needs to be shown as a part of class, she said, they can compress it and have it available online.

“The students are interacting at home. They are commenting on physics, and they like doing it.”

She said it is pretty clear students will need these kinds of skills in almost any job they get into.

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At Stuart School, also in Santa Rosa, the population is younger than Sonoma Academy -- kindergarten through eighth grade. The classes are split in a non-traditional way, but the students here are no less connected to the technology available.

The school, located in downtown Santa Rosa, has partnered with companies such as Simtronic, Comcast, AT&T and Autodesk to provide either money for scholarships for students to attend the small private school or to donate equipment to see how some technologies can be utilized in the classroom to enrich the learning experience.

One student who has a hearing disability sits in the classroom in front of a computer. The instructor has a microphone, and her lecture is shown on his screen.

“The equipment helps the students. It levels out the playing field,” said Dr. Lyn Giovaniello, the school’s director.

There are roughly 50 students at the school at any given time.

Another high school focusing on technology is the New Technology High School in Napa. Since opening its doors in 1996 the school has graduated 756 students.

The students helped design the school’s facade and also assist in maintaining its Web site. Each student has his or her own computer and uses the latest software to do tasks from accessing daily bulletins to completing math assignments.

The “project-based learning” the school touts has students present tech-based projects about the subject they are studying. Students often create a Web site with original graphics and links to related sites, or a PowerPoint presentation combining digital photography and original text.

Meanwhile, at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College, which last year completed $60 million in new construction, students can take advantage of Web conferencing to the Santa Rosa campus and to campuses where students are studying abroad.

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