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Educator Is a True Believer in Technology

February 23, 1992|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALHAMBRA AREA SCHOOLS — When Bonnie Price talks about the power of technology, she radiates the conviction of a true believer. When her hands fly across a computer keyboard, people crowd around, hoping her skills will rub off.

Although her job doesn't entail any commissions, you could call Price a salesperson. She is a technology specialist with the Alhambra Unified School District, one of six districts statewide receiving millions of dollars to incorporate computers into teaching.

Price's job is to draw up lesson plans using computers and laser disc players, to give demonstrations, and to leave teachers comfortable enough to operate the equipment after she leaves. It is a position that blends psychology, teaching skills and technical wizardry.

"There are a few people in (educational technology) who have become true superstars, and Bonnie is one of them," said Craig Blurton, acting director of instructional technology for the California State University system. "She's out there on the cutting edge of what is possible."

Price demurs, saying that thousands of teachers tinker with computer lessons to raise student interest and achievement. The Alhambra educator adds that she is merely one of the fortunate ones who is paid to do it full time.

Ironically, the district eliminated Price's position last year when it slashed school budgets, but Price kept her job after a supervisor pieced her salary back together from various grants.

So for this year, at least, Price still roams district schools, carrying her brown-bagged lunch and wheeling the tools of her trade behind her on a dolly. One day, she might show teachers how to use a laser disc geography game. On another, she will demonstrate desktop publishing software that allows students to hone English skills by publishing a paper.

In 1989, she designed "Teleconnected Culture," a computer project that has hooked California students up with counterparts in Brazil and Japan to exchange electronic mail. The project, which has been successful in other districts, will be launched in coming months with four classes at Mark Keppel High School.

Last year, her "Teleconnected Culture" project won Price a Business Week/Challenger Seven Fellowship for Innovation in Educational Technology award. She was one of seven teachers nationwide who received $2,000 and shared her ideas with educators at a series of seminars.

"There are no limits for Bonnie; all things are possible, and that's an important message to bring to youngsters," says Dick Methia, vice president of educational programs at the Challenger Center in Alexandria, Va.

Price admits she was drawn to Alhambra because its pilot program--called "Model Technology Schools"--provides $2.5 million in state money for equipment, staff and programs. Under administrator Gary Carnow, Alhambra has garnered $4 million more in government and corporate donations.

But if the computers--sitting in neat rows encased in steel and plastic--are the hardware, then Price is the software, brimming with enthusiasm as she demonstrates, trouble-shoots and demystifies the equipment for computer-phobic teachers.

Price began toying with computers in the 1980s, when she taught in the Whittier Unified School District. By 1985 she was cruising through electronic bulletin boards, probing to see what information she could access. In 1987, she discovered an electronic network for educators.

Since then, "you can't peel me off a modem," Price says. She believes that technology is an untapped gold mine for educators, and all that stands in the way is training.

"The technology is there to be used, and kids are so easy to teach; you just put it out there and they suck it up," she says.

Teachers just have to know where to look for help, Price continues. For instance, her "Teleconnected Culture" project, which teaches students history, geography and language skills, takes advantage of a free electronic mail service available to educators.

Price says any teacher with a telephone, a personal computer and a modem can access an international computer network at the Cal State University system. The network is operated jointly with the state Department of Education and allows classes to send electronic mail around the world.

Blurton says that 1,500 California teachers already use the program and that 150 more sign on each month, threatening to overwhelm its capacity. As a result, he is looking for funding that will enable the network to move to a bigger computer.

"We're not telling anyone else about it and we're not advertising," Blurton says. "We're right at the edge of what we can do technologically."

One recent day at lunch, Price sat in the faculty lounge at Repetto School in Monterey Park, munching a ham sandwich and corn chips and spreading the techno-gospel.

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