Beverly Hills students are sending computerized letters to students in other parts of the country and around the world as part of a program to create electronic pen pals.
This week, students at Beverly Hills' Hawthorne School are responding to a batch of electronic mail from a primary school in Adamstown, Australia, said Craig Davis, a teacher and computer coordinator in the Beverly Hills Unified School District.
A letter from Michael Abbott, a fifth-grader at Adamstown Primary School in Australia, read:
"G'day mate! My name is Michael Abbott. My friends are Rod, Mark, Scott, Matthew and Nicky. My hobbies are soccer and swimming. I have two brothers and their names are Jason and David. I am in the fifth grade. My favourite food is fish and chips and spaghetti. My mum works at Kresta Blinds and my dad works on the railway. Do you live near Disneyland? Have you been to it?"
And from Alison Cox, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Adamstown, came the message: "My favourite pop star is Madonna, although I would rather listen to classical music. I like reading and love to write poetry and stories. My favourite food is McDonald's."
The Beverly Hills students will write similar messages on their classroom computers and send them by way of telephone and satellite to their electronic pen pals in Australia. The writing program is part of a telecommunications project started last year by Davis.
Hooked Into System
All four Beverly Hills elementary schools are hooked into the telecommunications system that enables students to send and receive messages on the computer.
Students from outside the district may take part in the project by dialing the Hawthorne number: (213) 276-2187. Thus far, 165 students have been given codes to the system. Davis said that those wishing to hook into the system need a computer and a modem.
"You can talk to different people. It's really interesting because they tell you what type of computer they have and the software they use," said Eugene Huang, 11, who was among a group of students sending messages last year to an elementary school in Pennsylvania.
"There is an educational justification for this," Davis said. "We want to improve writing skills."
The computer encourages students to write outside of the classroom, Davis said.
"It is a different audience when they are writing to (their peers) on the computer," he said. "They take time to check for errors in spelling and grammar."
The telecommunications system is also being used by special education teachers who specialize in speech therapy. Jane Peale, a special education teacher, said that the system allows students to "build up their communication skills."
Davis said that the only drawback is a lack of computers set up to use the telephone. "The problem is that we have two, three and four wanting to use the system at the same time," he said.