Created on Wednesday, 13 June 2012 03:31
Written by Jaime Elliott
Julius E. Sprauve School students work on their new XO laptops during lessons with Columbus School of Girls students.
For the third year in a row, students from the Columbus School for Girls, in Columbus, Ohio, spent two weeks at Julius E. Sprauve School teaching computer technology as the culmination of a year-long independent study course taught by Christine Murakami.
As the Technology Integration Specialist for the Upper School at Columbus School for Girls, Murakami has overseen this innovative program each year and deemed this trip the most successful yet.
“The thing that really made a difference this year is that we keep coming back and that changes things,” said Murakami. “We are building trust and recognition at JESS and they’re starting to put their own effort into this program and that makes all the difference.”
Murakami’s students acquire, either through purchases or donations, specially developed laptops which were designed by the One Laptop Per Child initiative at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The XO laptops were designed for children with little or no access to computers or computer networks. They cost $200 each, have a special screen for outdoor use, include open source software and are made to withstand high heat and even rain.
The Columbus School for Girls class is also affiliated with Tim Falconer’s Waveplace Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing digital technology to Caribbean children. Waveplace has hosted XO laptop training at Guy Benjamin School in the past as well as other areas of the Caribbean.
Murakami’s independent study course students deliver the laptops to JESS students, but as a “service learning” class, the students engage in much more than just handing over the machinery.
Columbus School students learn all about the laptops, from networking with other XO laptops to repairing hardware and software. The students then develop a curriculum, prepare lessons and finally spend two weeks on St. John teaching computer technology.
“The girls work with me all year long and develop everything themselves,” said Murakami.
Among the 15, mostly sophomores and juniors, who spent two weeks teaching at JESS and staying at Maho Bay May 20 through June 2, were three young ladies who had also taken the class last year, explained Murakami.
“Another thing that seemed to make a difference this year is that we had three girls who returned for their second trip,” she said. “We were in three classrooms this year and the returning girls were our team leaders. The girls were more independent than they’d ever been and these three team leaders had a lot do with that.”
Due to the Memorial Day break, the girls spent a total of nine days in three different JESS classrooms teaching XO laptop use to students in second, third and fourth grades. After their XO laptop sessions, the girls then taught JESS sixth, seventh and eighth grade students computers in the JESS computer lab.
While the Columbus School for Girls students were fully prepared for the elementary school XO laptop work, the computer lab sessions were somewhat of a surprise, Murakami explained.
“The middle school teaching was a last minute addition,” said Murakami. “Due to circumstances, they didn’t know until the day before we got there that they were going to teach middle school computer classes.”
The Columbus School girls were busy with finals just before their trip to St. John and Murakami didn’t want to add any stress with the middle school class information, she explained.
But true to form, the girls accepted the challenge and shined, Murakami added.
“They are an impressive group of girls,” she said. ‘They realized the challenge and did a great job. They are really extraordinary.”
Murakami already has students signed up for next year’s XO laptop service learning class and expects the program to continue improving each year, she explained.
“The first year we came down it was like, ‘they were here and that was nice, now let’s get back to normal,’” said Murakami. “But the fact that we continue to come back and have built that trust, the effort is now coming from JESS as well which is really important.”
Murakami estimates that her program has distributed about 160 laptops to St. John students over the years, most of which are likely stuck in various closets around the island, and she’d love to have them back.
“There are over 160 laptops on St. John somewhere and we’d really like to get them back in circulation,” said Murakami. “If anyone has an old laptop, even if it is broken, please consider giving it back to JESS. My girls would love to work on the broken laptops; it would be great practice for them.”
“We have this ongoing exchange of broken computers, so we can still use them,” said Murakami.
Anyone with an unused XO laptop is urged to turn it in at JESS or email Murakami at