News Release

Southeastern, UL System, Virtue Foundation partner to provide laptops, curricula for local children

Contact: Christina Chapple


(1) Southeastern MAT graduate students brainstorm with students from MIT via webcast  (2) MIT students visit with Southeastern students by computer  (3) Hammond Westside Upper student unpack new Virtue Foundation computers 

(1) BRAINSTORMING ON CURRICULA – At Hammond Westside Upper School, Southeastern Louisiana University Master of Arts in Teaching graduate students and Tangipahoa Parish Schools personnel participate in a webcast with students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Southeastern and MIT students will work together to develop curriculum for laptop computers donated to Westside Upper by the Virtue Foundation. From left, front, are Jake Ragusa, Tangipahoa Parish Schools technical director; Maureen Brim, Apple Computers account executive; Southeastern MAT students Ray Morris and Shrondel Paul, and Mary McMahan, technical facilitator at Hammond Eastside Upper Elementary.

 (2) HOOKING UP MIT AND SOUTHEASTERN MAT – A student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Klopfer class chats by Internet webcast with Southeastern Louisiana University Master of Arts in Teaching students (seen in box on screen) about curricula for the laptop computers donated by the Virtue Foundation to Hammond Westside Upper Elementary, one of the university’s partner schools. 

 (3) LAPTOPS ARE IN THE BUILDING -- Hammond Westside Upper Elementary sixth graders Donald Davis and Keith Tillman help unpack and set up some of the 40 Apple iBook G4 laptops donated to the school by the Virtue Foundation. The computers arrived at the Hammond school on Thursday. 

       HAMMOND – Virtue Foundation, a public charitable organization with affiliates throughout the United States and abroad, is contributing to Louisiana’s post-hurricane recovery by providing laptop computers -- and curricula to go with them -- for students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
       Partners in the project are the University of Louisiana System, Southeastern Louisiana University, Tangipahoa Parish Schools, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
       The foundation connected with Louisiana last fall, when Virtue Foundation co-founder Joan LaRovere, along with MIT professor Eric Klopfer, participated in a statewide higher education forum, “Rebuilding Louisiana Through Education,” sponsored by the University of Louisiana System. 
       The laptop initiative became a reality this week when 40 Apple iBook G4 laptops on mobile learning carts as well as camera, video and music equipment arrived at Hammond Westside Upper Elementary. The program is expected to be featured on the national news program, “Nightline.” 
       “When I approached (UL System President) Sally Clausen about partnering with the Virtue Foundation in the aftermath of the storms, I was moved by her passion and enthusiasm for advancing technology and improving teacher training in Louisiana’s schools,” said LaRovere, a pediatrician who founded the Virtue Foundation along with fellow physician Joseph Salim following the Sept. 11, 2002 terrorist attacks. 
       “In just a few months,” LaRovere said, “we have seen this initiative move forward with amazing results, and we anticipate similar work in other areas of Louisiana.”  
       “This program is a model for Louisiana and elsewhere,” Clausen said.  “It is an effective blend of real-life teacher training for students at Southeastern Louisiana University, cutting edge technology thanks to the Virtue Foundation and MIT, and the application of innovative classroom approaches by the Tangipahoa Parish school system.  We believe in preparing students early for success in school and college, and this project advances that work.”  
       Following the higher education forum, Clausen connected the Virtue Foundation with  Southeastern College of Education and Human Development Dean Diane Allen, who suggested that Hammond Westside Upper Elementary, one of the university’s partner schools, would be an ideal recipient of Virtue Foundation laptops.
       “This is a wonderful way for Southeastern to expand our longstanding partnership with Westside and give invaluable experience to our teacher candidates,” said President Randy Moffett.
       Approximately 95 percent of Westside’s more than 450 fourth, fifth and sixth graders are on free and reduced lunch, while approximately 12 percent were displaced by Louisiana’s devastating storms.
       “It is so important in times of traumas and disasters that all elements work together to support students and their teachers -- teachers in the classroom now and teachers in training,” said Allen. “I think the potential to expand this program is extremely great,” added Tangipahoa Schools Superintendent Louis Joseph.
       Through the Southeastern-Westside partnership, Southeastern students enrolled in the university’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) graduate program are assigned to Westside Upper for field experience, where they work with students in the school’s Monday-Thursday after school program. Virtue Foundation laptops will be used in the program, which currently serves approximately 100 students, according to Principal Alexa Hookfin.
       This semester 14 students taught by education professor Shirley Jacob will collaborate with MIT students to develop curricula for the laptops. The two groups brainstormed for the first time via an Internet webcast from Westside Upper earlier this week.
       “We see this initiative with Southeastern and the UL System as a model for Louisiana and for other parts of the nation,” said Klopfer. “The key elements to future success are innovative projects and productive relationships like the ones we have created here in Hammond.” 
       According to LaRovere, Virtue Foundation envisions an innovative curriculum based on a one-laptop-per-child model pioneered by MIT professor Seymour Papert in Maine and now used by 45,000 seventh, eighth and ninth grade students in that state. 
       Southeastern MAT graduate student Raymond Morris, who teaches fourth grade at Pleasant Hill Elementary in Bogalusa, La., said the Virtue Foundation laptops “will make a tremendous difference” to the Westside Upper pupils. Morris works in the Westside after school program twice a week, helping students with homework assignments and building their computers, mathematics or English skills. “In most schools, students have to wait their turn” for computer access, he pointed out. “We’re all really excited about this.”
       Virtue Foundation is collaborating with Joseph, Hookfin, and Jake Ragusa, the school system’s technical director, to get the program up and running at Westside Upper. With the assistance of Ragusa, Apple Computers account executive Maureen Brim, and Mary McMahan, technical facilitator at Hammond Eastside School, Westside students have already begun using the laptops and accompanying equipment to document and video their Katrina experiences and share thoughts about how this year’s Mardi Gras compared to their past celebrations. 
       “We have all needed a morale booster,” said Hookfin. “We’re going to be on top of the world.”
       LaRovere said the foundation is also working with the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary School Education and the Louisiana Board of Regents to use Westside Upper as a pilot site for the development of more progressive one-laptop-per-child curricula to be rolled out across the state within standard school hours.  
       She added that all donations to the Virtue Foundation’s Katrina Initiative will be directly used to help the displaced families and victims of the hurricanes. For more information, contact LaRovere at or (646) 662-2452.

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