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 Berkeley Pledge Special:

Using the Internet to Connect High School and College Students

posted June 16, 1998

McClymonds High School in West Oakland is not far from the Berkeley campus, but the distance between the two schools is far greater than the few miles that separate them.

“In many ways they are like two different cultures,” says Yvette Gullatt, coordinator of the Literacy Through Science and Technology Program, a collaborative project between the Early Academic Outreach Program, College Writing Program, Bay Area Writing Project and the Center for Teaching and Studying of American Cultures, which uses the Internet to improve student writing.

Gullatt hopes that the Internet will help to bridge the cultural and academic divide and encourage more McClymonds students to set their sights on Berkeley. She set up an electronic pen pal program, pairing UC Berkeley undergraduates with McClymonds sophomores enrolled in advanced English courses. The students from the two campuses will not only become personally acquainted, but also share literary criticisms of books from coordinated reading lists.

For example, students in an African American studies class at Berkeley are reading the autobiography of Frederick Douglas while students in an English II class at McClymonds are reading the autobiography of Malcom X. The students will use the Internet to discuss their perceptions of the books.

In another assignment, Gullatt asked students to tour virtual museums on the World Wide Web, searching for images “that best capture who they are,” says Gullatt. Students were to then share these images with their Berkeley pen pals.

“The students have been very careful in their presentations of themselves,” says Gullatt. “They want their messages to be very exact, with perfect spelling and grammar. They know that the person reading their message is from Cal, and they are very impressed with that.”

McClymonds student Minh Truoung laughed as he read the first correspondence from his pen pal, a materials science and engineering major.

“I wish that we had a scanner so that we could see what each other looks like,” Truoung says. The McClymonds sophomore says he wants to learn about his pen pal’s classes and how he is adjusting to his first year on the Berkeley campus.

“I told him that I am 5’ 7”, that I’m a weird person, that I like math and science and that I like football and basketball. He likes martial arts and so do I,” he added.

McClymonds sophomore Shamariah Jointer wants to major in criminal justice and plans to become a lawyer. She is not sure where she wants to go to college, but plans to go to a school with a good basketball program. What does she want to learn from her Berkeley electronic pen pal? “She’s a biology major, so maybe I can get some help in my biology class,” she says. “I think we will have a lot to talk about, because we both like sports.”

Gullatt says that McClymonds will benefit from teacher training and curriculum development. The high school received only a three-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the association responsible for accrediting secondary schools. The school was told it must improve its literacy curriculum before receiving the full seven-year accreditation, says Gullatt.

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