VALDOSTA -- For the first time in approximately four years, students at Southeast Elementary School have a computer laboratory on campus to aid them in their academic pursuits.

Ten-year-old Jonathan Thomas, a fifth-grader, thinks the new computer lab is wonderful.

"It is great," he said. "Everybody has a computer to work on and learn. I am learning lots of new stuff now."

Fellow classmate, Amanda Zehner, 10, agrees.

"I think the computers are pretty cool," she said. "I love to work on these computers. It makes me happy."

Of course, Thomas and Zehner are not alone.

Every student at the elementary school, more than 600 total, from those in special education to those in the gifted program, spend an average of 50 minutes a week at work in the computer lab.

"We have been wanting this computer lab for forever," said Katie Wright, computer laboratory instructor. "Last Monday, everything was finally up and running."

Wright said each computer is equipped with plenty of academic-related programming, such as Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math, that addresses the same objectives covered in the classroom.

"Students can come in here and work on reading, language, math ... at their own level," Wright said. "This system is suitable for every child."

Wright said the students are also encouraged to master keyboarding skills by completing any and all essay assignments in the laboratory rather than at home with the traditional pen and paper.

Principal Alvin Hudson said the new computer laboratory was a necessity.

"We had two classrooms with 14 computers total in them," he said. "This was not enough to accommodate an entire class with 20 or more students. We wanted to have everyone together."

Hudson said 30 new Dell Optiplex GX240's and 30 computer desks were ordered for the new laboratory. The old computers were dispersed among the school's fifth-grade classrooms with two computers placed in each room for student use.

The total price for the laboratory was $33,227 -- $5,579 for desks and $27,468 for computers, Hudson said, adding the project was funded by a grant from Trus Joist, a Weyerhaeuser Co., and the school's Title I funds.

"I am excited about the lab," Hudson said. "The main purpose of the lab is to enhance math and reading skills. All of the students have a chance to go through this lab to enhance those skills."

Hudson said he hopes the additional educational activities the kids are exposed to during their laboratory time will help increase their scores on the Criterion Referenced Competency Test, which is scheduled to be administered during the week of April 15.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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