Some students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough's most remote schools are getting back-to-school presents. Thanks to two federal grants, children in Tyonek, Nanwalek and Port Graham get free Sony Playstations.
But the goal is education more than entertainment.
The project provides supplemental school materials on compact discs from high-tech curriculum provider Lightspan. The information is appealingly packaged to rival the slickest computer games and television shows.
"This is new and exciting," said Rick Matiya, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's director of federal programs. "Lightspan is a very cool organization. It is not cheap, but it is good.
"It's already in Tyonek, and it's on its way to Nanwalek and Port Graham on Tuesday."
In June, the district got the word that it had won two federal grants, totaling $536,000. One targets preschoolers; the other at-risk students in grades five through eight.
The preschool CDs have resources to help parents prepare children for reading and mathematics.
The materials for older students contain math, reading and language arts lessons contained in fun story lines they will not even recognize as schooling. Watching them will be assigned as homework, Matiya said.
Lightspan uses the Playstations so that families without computers can use the materials via the family television. As a by-product, it diverts children away from regular programming into something more productive.
"If we can get mom and dad to unplug the TV and plug in the Sony Playstation, which the grant will buy for them, they can use some really cool graphics software," Matiya said. "It turns the TV off and replaces it with things that are as visually appealing."
The students will notice the Playstations, but they are only a small part of the project, he stressed.
Experts from Lightspan will visit villages to train teachers and parents how to help children learn and get the most out of the materials. Trainers will team-teach with the regular instructors to demonstrate how to use the enhancements.
Lightspan also will work with the district to develop a customized Web site for teachers, students and families that do have computers. The Lightspan programmer will be visiting the peninsula next week to set it up. The site will be officially unveiled Wednesday at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.
The site will include classroom aides tailored to village culture. For example, the old-fashioned "See Dick run" could be transformed to "See Ivan fish."
"I expect a pretty darn good program out of them," Matiya said.
The Lightspan program coming to the peninsula villages has been proven effective. Studies show that if used as instructed 30 minutes per day, it raises standardized test scores, he said.
"It's that good," he said.
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