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Dunham Fund providing computers for East’s Magnet Academy students

Fred Rogers East Magnet Academy students includling Salvador Garci(center) work independently laptops subjects ranging from climatology geology animal behavior class

Fred Rogers East Magnet Academy students includling Salvador Garcia (center) work independently on laptops on subjects ranging from climatology to geology to animal behavior in class on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. The Dunham Fund has committed to a grant of up to $660,000 to buy a computer device for every student enrolled in the Magnet Academy. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 21, 2013 6:20AM

AURORA — Thanks to a $660,000 grant, the East Aurora School District will be able to purchase a computer for every student in the district’s Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy next year.

In all, the grant from the Dunham Fund will put laptops into the hands of 750 Magnet Academy students, according to district officials.

With the grant announcement Tuesday and the district’s planned expansion of the Magnet Academy, East Aurora Superintendent Jerome Roberts said that the Magnet Academy today has greatly surpassed his initial vision for the school seven years ago. The School District purchased the Fred Rodgers Community Center building from the city for $3 million last year.

“The support from the Dunham Fund will allow the academy to provide 1:1 computing for all of its students to enhance and enrich the traditional magnet school curriculum, increase focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives and improve the quality of life for all of our students’ families,” Roberts said.

In August, Roberts said, East Aurora will fully launch a 1:1 Computer Initiative to put a computer in every East Aurora student’s hands.

Mark Truemper, Dunham Fund advisor and co-founder of the Aurora East Educational Foundation, presented the grant Tuesday morning at O’Donnell Elementary school. Truemper said the East Aurora project is exactly the kind of innovative initiative the Dunham Fund is excited to support.

“STEM-related initiatives represent the future of progressive elementary, middle and high school education in our nation and an area where the United States needs to advance more rapidly to better compete in the global arena,” Truemper said.

Under the grant program, third through sixth grade Magnet school students will receive an HP Pavilion Notebook; seventh and eighth graders will receive MacBook Pros; and high school students will receive an HP Elitebook or Lenovo ThinkPad, and the software needed to support their coursework.

1:1 initiative

The loan of a MacBook Pro brought East Aurora eighth grader Oscar Miranda one step closer to achieving his dream next year.

As part of a pilot program at the Magnet Academy, Miranda was one of the school’s 75 sixth, seventh or eight grade students to have their own laptops on loan this school year. The constant connectivity has allowed Miranda to take necessary high school science classes in an online setting ahead of applying to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora next year.

He remembered a field trip to IMSA in grade school.

“I saw it and I loved it. I thought, ‘what if I could be there?’” Miranda said.

Striving for that goal, the youngster said, “has really made learning exciting.”

Providing laptops for the Magnet students has impacted their entire family, according to Angela Rowley, Magnet Academy principal.

The drive for a 1:1 Computing for the Magnet school came out of an assessment which found that while 92 percent of the students had a computer at home, 80 percent of them were only able to use a computer once a month. At the time of the survey, the middle school had access to only 20 laptops for teacher check-out at school, meaning students were able to use those computers about once a week.

The digital divide between students from low-income families, predominant in the East Aurora district, and others in more affluent areas became quite apparent in survey results, said Clayton Muhammad, the city of Aurora’s director of communications.

“Our families will have greater access to current technology which will improve the entire District 131 community,” Rowley said.

To make the whole project work, Comcast has provided low-cost Internet service to district families at home and the Magnet Academy has collaborated with the city to connect the Fred Rodgers building to the On-Light Aurora fiber-optic network, Rowley said.

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