Local students visit Weiss Tech House

The Daily Pennsylvanian
November 10, 2003

Twenty-eight West Philadelphia middle school students took over the Weiss Tech House last week -- but not as part of a technology initiative. They were there to write.

On Friday, Write-On, a community service program led by Penn students designed to promote an array of academic skills in West Philadelphia middle school students, took its participants on a "field trip" to the Weiss Tech House. Although the program usually teaches skills using traditional methods in the Kelly Writers House, Write-On coordinators believed they needed the Tech House's resources to show the children how to use technology to channel their creative impulses.

Write-On provided the 17 coaches and 28 students, but the Tech House lent space, food and technical support, said Surbhi Puri, a College and Engineering sophomore who is on the Tech House's house projects committee.

"We're trying to expose them to technology they might not have access to," Puri added.

The idea "occurred to me through my affiliation with both groups," said College junior Rachel Kreinces, who is a coordinator for Write-On and a member of the Weiss Tech House marketing committee.

Although the six years of Write-On's existence have focused on promoting writing skills, the program has recently been broadening its approach to include other abilities needed for academic success, Kreinces said.

"We want to get them excited about being at college," Kreinces said, noting that the field trip will probably become a regular, once- per-semester event.

After a 10-minute snack of cookies, soda and Rice Krispies treats, students were broken up into three groups. One group was led into a room with a giant plasma screen and asked to brainstorm what could be done with a computer and what features the students' ideal computers would have.

The second group was led into a room with eight PCs. They were asked to think of an object, find a picture of the object online, cut and paste it into Microsoft Word, write a few sentences about the object and then print the completed project to take it home.

The final group took a more traditional approach, reading from a book and using it as a basis to write about how they defined success.

After 25 minutes, the groups changed stations, ensuring that each student had a chance to participate in every project.

Although she has a computer at home, "we don't use them at school," said Jasmine Hampton, a seventh grader at Lea Elementary who is involved in Write-On.

"It's a great program. It's a good way for a bunch of college students to help out and make a difference," College sophomore Paul Townsend said.