IT fuels achievement

IT fuels achievement

'Real-world' approach to learning gives students a leg up


A California charter school program is giving 1,200 high-school students a dose of life in the real world of work.

The Center for Advanced Research and Technology, a collaboration between the Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified school districts, opened in September.

Students interested in high-tech training come to CART for three hours each day to take advanced classes in forensic science, chemistry, engineering and product development, environmental technology, information systems and global finance. The students earn credits toward graduation for the classes, and they return to their regular schools for their required classes.

Vendors chip in

Businesses such as Microsoft Corp., SGI, Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky., contributed hardware, software and services to the project. Additional funding comes from the Fresno County Office of Education, California State University and the California Endowment, the state's largest health care foundation. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., helped design CART's science labs.

Students in California's Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified school districts take classes in advanced subjects such as forensic science and environmental technology at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, a $34 million facility in Clovis, Calif.
The school's $34 million complex boasts 11 labs, including the Reality Center, a 135-seat facility designed by SGI. Each seat has its own data port and power supply.

'We're fortunate that we have on our staff a combination of great academic teachers and adults who are accomplished in technical careers,' said Pat Wright, chief executive officer of the CART program. CART's career staff includes a geophysicist, an attorney and two engineers.

In the forensic science class, for example, students evaluate a crime scene that has been staged in the lab, Wright said. They make observations, collect physical evidence, and send it across the hall to the chemistry lab.

Each student works on a team. The quality of the results depends on the work of the team, just as it does in the business world, Wright said.

At the end of the semester, students must present their findings to a panel of teachers and businesspeople, he said. All the students' data is available for review by other students. Teachers store their class handouts on a server, so everyone can refer to them as needed.
'Paper is a last resort,' Wright said.

Each lab connects to a server farm with 2.5T of storage, made up of assorted models of IBM NetFinity servers, with redundant switches, routers and hubs from Cisco.

Network Appliance Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., supplied the school with storage and caching products. CART also has two SGI 2100 series servers with 16G of RAM each that students use for graphics.

Students access the CART network via 200 thin clients from MaxSpeed Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif. The school also has 1,000 IBM Pentium III ThinkPad notebook PCs, Wright said.

Learn at home

Students who have Internet access at home can connect to the CART server from there, Wright said. Others can check out one of CART's notebooks and log in.

'Students can have access to CART's resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week,' Wright said. 'They can pick up their work where they left off. Since the system has been fully operational in mid-October, CART students have logged 9,000 hours online.'

Wright described CART's students as average academically, but in the first semester of the school's operation, their math and science grades improved, he said. Attendance levels are higher, and grade point averages have increased for the group, he said.

Wright attributes some of the success of CART to the availability of its resources. 'Technology has allowed us to bridge gaps and address barriers to equity,' he said. 'Every student has access to all the resources they need to be successful, seven days a week. That's unprecedented in public education.'

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