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NEW YORK -- In 1990, 125 middle-school students were selected from throughout New York City to participate in Project TELL, a program designed to study the effects of computer use on schoolwork. Today, many of those students are excelling in college -- and graduating.
A partnership of Verizon predecessor companies, NYNEX and Bell Atlantic, with the City University of New York Graduate School and the New York City Board of Education, Project TELL was one of the first demonstrations of after-school home use of networked computers to encourage learning among minority students and their families.
The goal of Project TELL was to determine if students reading at the 25-50 percent level in fifth grade could improve their school performance and succeed in gaining admission to college.
"We saw at the time that computers could link people through a new means of communications," said Paul Lacouture, president of Verizon's Network Services Group. "Project TELL was an innovative and exciting program to offer to these students. As a communications company we were intrigued by its possibilities -- to encourage youngsters to develop and enhance their academic potential by offering them access to computers and new ways of learning and communicating."
"These students had scored below the fiftieth percentile on their fifth-grade reading tests," said Joseph Salvati, chief of staff of the Board of Education's Division of Instructional and Information Technology. "This is the broadest definition the Board uses to identify students 'at risk' of dropping out of high school. We're so thrilled for the more than 80 percent of the Project TELL students who continued with the program, graduating from high school and the many who have now gone onto college."
Of the 80 percent of the TELL students who graduated high school, 46 percent of them did so within four years.
The project, initially funded for three years, started with 125 "at risk" middle-school students who were chosen from five New York City inner-city schools, one school from each borough. Before the students began sixth grade, computers, monitors, printers and modems were installed in each of their homes.
They were also given access to two networks -- NYCENET, the New York City Board of Education telecommunications network, and Project TELL ONLINE, a private service -- at a time when access to computer networks was a novelty. Both of these innovative systems offered e-mail, real-time chat and educational resources.
Project TELL students made gains in school performance which are directly attributable to their access to the online networks. After participating in the project for three years, the TELL students, as a whole, had increased their reading scores by almost 10 percentile points. The individual TELL students who had made the greatest gains in school spent considerably more time using their home computers and engaging in online network activities than others in the program.
In a second phase of the program, Verizon introduced and sponsored a college incentive program, funded by the Verizon Foundation. The project continued with 74 of the original participating students, offering a $2,500 annual scholarship to all students who graduated high school and met college admission requirements.
As high school students, they met once each month for workshops that were conducted by CUNY's Stanton/Heiskell Telecommunications Policy Center, which provided tutoring in all the major subject areas, college admissions requirements and the development of job resumes.
"Without Project TELL, I am sure that I would not have known as much about computers as I do now," said Sherice Davis, a recent graduate of Queens College. "My knowledge of computers has really helped me with my schoolwork, both in high school and in college. The information I gained through Project TELL will definitely stay with me for a lifetime."
Of the 74 TELL students who were tracked through high school, 34 graduated within four years from high school and continued immediately onto college. TELL students were admitted to and attended a variety of colleges and universities -- including Georgetown, Syracuse, Wesleyan, Hofstra and many of the State University of New York and City University campuses.
"The goal of Project TELL was to see if these students could improve their school performance if they were given greater exposure to computers," said Helen Birenbaum, director of the Stanton/Heiskell Telecommunication Policy Center, CUNY Graduate Center. "According to our final report, Project TELL demonstrated that through home access to computers and telecommunications networks, a significant proportion of underachieving students could make immense strides and even reverse a trend that threatened their academic success."
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