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Sue Bush
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“Day of Promise”: Berkshires' Wireless Education Logs On

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, January 06, 2006

Silvio O. Conte seventh-grade student Savannah Richer holds a wireless laptop computer, while former state Rep. Peter Larkin and Perri Petricca look on.
View Slide Show
North Adams – Donald Dubendorf stood behind a podium erected at the Mass MoCA B-10 venue stage and summed up a monumental morning with eleven words.

“What a great day, a day of promise for enormous change,” Dubendorf said.

See Video Clips here

Dubendorf is the chairman of the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative Steering Committee; on Jan. 6, the initiative delivered Apple iBook G4 wireless laptop computers to specific seventh-grade students enrolled at the Silvio O. Conte Middle School in the city.

Later in the day, a similar celebratory, ceremonial presentation occurred for seventh-grade students enrolled in Pittsfield-based schools. Participating Pittsfield schools are the Herberg Middle School and the Reid Middle School, which are part of Pittsfield’s public school system, and the St. Mark School, which is affiliated with the Catholic Schools of Pittsfield.

1 on 1 Wireless

Students Paul Guerino and Michael Tatro said that schoolwork will be much more fun with the laptops.
More than 700 seventh-grade students will receive the laptop computers during this month, according to information provided by the wireless learning initiative group. Over 2,300 wireless laptops will be delivered to middle school students and teachers within the next three years; schools have installed the necessary infrastructure to support the wireless technology.

The goal is one wireless laptop for each middle school student. Once students have familiarized themselves with the laptops, they will be permitted to take the computers home. School administrators have developed laptop take-home policies.

Students Excited For Wireless Education

Students gabbed excitedly about the laptops and the opportunities now open to them.

“It’s really cool because you will have instant access to the computer,” said 13-year-old student Michael Tatro. “It will help out with schoolwork.”

Paul Guerino, 13, said that he is looking forward to hitting the books via the wireless technology.

“We will be able to be on-line anywhere and it will help us study and learn,” he said. “We’ll have Internet access all the time.”

Destiny Madison, 13, articulated her feelings about the laptops.

“A lot of kids don’t have access to computers at home,” she said. “I think this is going to be a big help and a big improvement. People will be able to do their book reports easier and be better about doing homework.”

Destiny Madison and Michael Fierro tried out the technology at an event technology station.

High-Tech "Barn-Building"

Former state Rep. Peter Larkin, who is the current chief operating officer for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, started the wireless education initiative ball rolling about three years ago, while he was serving as a state legislator.

Larkin beamed as a line of education and political leaders distributed the computers to students. During his public remarks, he likened launching the program to an old-fashioned “barn-building.”

“This isn’t about me, it’s about ‘we’,” Larkin told about 175 people gathered at the B-10 venue. “In a way, it is a barn-building exercise.”

Schools are the “keystone” of any community, Larkin said, and he noted that for decades, social demographics were considered the predictors of student success.

Helping Students Succeed

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said, and outlined a trio of factors that can catapult students to success.

Adults in the community and in the home who care about students, maintaining and demonstrating expectations that children can learn, and dedicated teachers in schools bring about student success, he said.

The laptops will give the North Adams and Pittsfield students a leg up on success and their futures.

“These laptops are an elevator, not a leveler,” Larkin said.

North Adams Mayor John Barrett III
Speaking after the presentation concluded, Larkin termed the program launch “a grand adventure.”

“I see this as we’ve set the foundation and we’re on the verge of a grand adventure,” he said. “This day is exciting and it’s the start of a grand adventure for teachers and kids. The fulfillment will come with student success. This is not an ending, this is a beginning.”

Touching Lives

City Mayor John Barrett III was a city elementary school teacher before being elected mayor in 1983. Just a few months after taking office in 1984, the Sprague Electric Co. announced that it was leaving the city, which meant unemployment for hundreds of area residents.

“Of the 2,000 people who lost their jobs, 50 percent didn’t have high school diplomas,” Barrett said.

That scenario must never repeat itself within the city, Barrett said. Education has been a priority since he first became mayor, and entities such as Mass MoCA have delivered new opportunities to students, he said.

Larkin was the catalyst for more opportunity, he said.

“Peter Larkin had the vision to see the importance of this,” Barrett said.

Changes brought about by the initiative will be felt for decades to come, he predicted.

“We are going to touch the lives of people who will not even know we were here this day,” Barrett said.

"Old Guys Like Us"

Dubendorf invited several students to share the stage with him.

“I just want to stand with these kids, I’m proud of these kids,” Dubendorf said. “They are the future; and don’t they make me look good?”

And during a light moment when Barrett– who was sworn in to a 12th two-year mayoral term on Jan. 2- told Dubendorf that the filled stage was “blocking” Barrett’s photo op, Dubendorf quipped, “In just a couple years, Mayor, when you are in your 30th term, [the students] will be voters.”

Dubendorf called on increased support for the program from regional businesses, and noted that it is “the old guys like us” who resist change and progress, not school students.

“We’re the problem at the end of the day,” he said. “Today is a great day, a day to do something different and invest in our future. Shame on us for taking so long.”

The leaders of the two participating cities and the school officials were quick to support the initiative, Dubendorf said.

“Changes do not come without leadership,” Dubendorf said. “John [Barrett] embraced this early on. John and Jim [North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare]; I celebrate what they’ve achieved here.”

Montepare credited Larkin for the program.

North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare

Keep the Momentum Moving Forward

“Peter lit this thing on fire three years ago,” Montepare said. “This is an exciting day for me, an exciting day for city schools, for the city, for Pittsfield schools, for the community and for the state.”

“The most important thing in all of this is the kids,” he said.

Steering Committee Co-chairman and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Vice-president of Administration and Finance James Stakenas spoke about the unwavering support of the college.

“MCLA supported this from day one,” he said. “MCLA has embraced the training and professional development necessary to utilize this technology.”

The college is developing an instructional technology master’s degree education program, Stakenas said.

Michael Supranowicz, the Vice-president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and steering committee co-chairman, urged increased support for the initiative.

“We know these students will receive laptop computers,” he said. “We want to be sure that their brothers, sisters, and cousins have the same opportunity.”

Bosley noted that the state and the private sector contributed revenues to the project and MCLA created a workable wireless curriculum.

“Without a curriculum, these things are just laptops,” he said.

Seeing Made Nuciforo A Believer

Nuciforo recalled Larkin’s invitation to travel to Maine and see a middle school wireless education program in action. He was a bit of a doubting Thomas at first, Nuciforo acknowledged.

“And I was sold as soon as I saw that wireless initiative at work in the middle schools of Maine,” he said.

Students Studying On Rolling Lawns

North Adams Public Library Director Marcia Gross and Rick Moon, library technology administrator, attended the event. The library is working to install wireless infrastructure so that the student laptops may be used at the facility.

“We are working to provide these resources at the library," Gross said. “We want to promote all our databases and we are working to get library cards for all the kids. We want the students to be able to use all our resources and with the wireless, they could use [library resources] from home.”

Moon described a possible picturesque scenario.

“We’d love to have the kids at the library doing projects,” he said. “So you could see kids sitting out on the lawn doing projects.”

Perri Petricca, CEO of Petricca Industries and Berkshire Bank President and CEO Michael Daly led the charge for business support of the initiative. Their efforts generated over $818,000 in support.

The Right Tool For The Job

Petricca noted that the contributions are not “gifts” to the students but are “tools.”

“We’re giving them the tools, and we have no doubt they will succeed,” Petricca said.

The three-year program is being funded by a combination of state, private, and school revenues, according to a fact sheet provided by the initiative group.

The state has designated $2 million toward the initiative. An additional $2 million will be raised by the private sector. The schools are providing approximately $1.7 million, which represents both a cash contribution and dedicated staffing for the BWLI. State support for the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative has been provided by the John Adams Innovation Institute, the economic development division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, according to fact sheet information.


Video #1: State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley

Video #2:Former state Rep. and current COO of Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Peter Larkin

Video #3: Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative Steering Committee Co-chairman and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Vice-president of Administration and Finance James Stakenas

Video #4: BWLI Steering Committee Co-chairman and Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Vice-president Michael Supranowicz

Video #5: BWLI Chairman and Berkshire Connect President Donald Dubendorf

Video #6: North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare

Video #7: North Adams Mayor John Barrett III

Video #8: BWLI Chairman and Berkshire Connect President Donald Dubendorf and Perri Petricca of Petricca Industries Inc.

Video #9 : State Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr.

Video #10: North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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