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CNN Today

Palm Computers Help Immigrant Students

Aired December 25, 2000 - 1:05 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Some children in Kentucky are on the receiving end of an unusual program. It uses a high-tech gadget to keep kids in school, literally by putting education at their fingertips.

And CNN technology correspondent Rick Lockridge tells us all about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK LOCKRIDGE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a cold Saturday morning on Jean Young's (ph) farm in Trimble County, Kentucky, where Carlos Robles (ph) is pulling down the now-dry tobacco his family helped harvest this fall. Carlos is one of about 800,000 children of migrant laborers who work in America's fields, go to school when they can, and finish school all too rarely.

Carlos knows he wants more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to be stuck doing this my whole life.

LOCKRIDGE: And Carlos has a real shot at breaking the cycle with a little high-tech help.

MICHAEL ABELL, KENTUCKY MIGRANT PROGRAM COORDINATOR: At an early stage, it does show promise, especially on a large scale. I would say it is at the very early stages of a real revolution.

LOCKRIDGE: A hand-held revolution. The idea is that a palmtop computer can keep kids connected, keep them current, caught up with their classmates; help them break the cycle.

STEPHANIE SORRELL, MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER: You're not saying that farming is a bad thing. It's just that whatever they decide they want to do, instead of having to be confined to something just because they don't have the skills in order to make it happen for themselves.

LOCKRIDGE: A pilot program by the U.S. Office of Migrant Education has put donated palmtops into the hands of 55 students at the Eminence, Kentucky middle school. So there's no discrimination, many non-migrant kids are also issued palmtops.

But it's clearly the migrant kids who benefit the most, from being able to download their lessons from any phone line or e-mail in their homework when they can't make it to class. The palmtops also help them learn English and, perhaps most importantly, they help the kids become comfortable with computers.

SORRELL: Like it or not, Windows is like, in our communities; it's in our workplace, it's in our schools.

LOCKRIDGE: When Vanessa Escalante (ph) gets home from school, her father does his best to help her master her little computer. He has also acquired a PC for the family and a Spanish-to-English translator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They're understanding things much more rapidly for all this technology, and it will be better for their future.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): It really helps with my homework. I'd like to have a career; Yes, I would.

LOCKRIDGE: Jesus Gonzalez has only his knees and a bookshelf, instead of a desk and chair. But he does his homework on the PDA as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Having a good education in this country is very important for my future; and also knowing English is important.

LOCKRIDGE: His mother is delighted that Jesus will have opportunities she never had.

MARIA ELENA VELASQUEZ DE GONZALEZ, JESUS' MOTHER (through translator): It's very important, especially coming from a country where it isn't possible to buy your children a computer or other devices like the one that my son has been given.

LOCKRIDGE: The PDAs can't work magic, of course. Jesus and Vanessa still both still need extra tutoring to keep up their algebra classmates at Shelbyville High School. And Vanessa is still struggling with her PDA's many menus and submenus. And there are questions: Who will pay for the pocket PCs if the program is to expand? They cost almost $500 dollars apiece, fully outfitted.

Still, the program is showing early promise.

JIM JUSTICE, SHELBYVILLE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: I'm real excited as to where this can lead. I'm just hoping that the use of the technology does prove to be beneficial to them.

LOCKRIDGE: Stephanie Sorrell appreciates having a paperless classroom. Her students simply beam their assignments right into her laptop. And the students can download new textbooks any time.

SORRELL: And I don't have to be confined to the fact that my kids have to use this books book because we bought it or whatever. We don't have to be confined that way. LOCKRIDGE: Back at Carlos Robles' home, it's clear the family prizes and preserves its heritage. There is no shame here in being a laborer.

But by the dim light of his one small lamp, Carlos taps out his future with a plastic stylus and plans for the day he will leave the tobacco barns behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll be a scientist that knows about nature and computers.

LOCKRIDGE: A great deal of engineering has gone into making palmtop computers inexpensive and powerful.

(on camera): But it will take much more engineering to solve the problem of inequality of educational opportunity; engineering of the social and political varieties.

Rick Lockridge, CNN, Trimble County, Kentucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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