A commitment to education State's first lady observes computer-based programs at UC school
by : Christine Nardone Reporter staff writer
Mar 30, 2001 | 827 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Maybe it was growing up as an only child in a single-parent home in Philadelphia that made education one of Diane DiFrancesco's key issues.

"I lived in rowhomes where there were 25 houses to a block," said DiFrancesco, the wife of Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco. Diane DiFrancesco said she focused on education and hard work to get to a more comfortable life.

"I didn't want to work in a factory like my mother did," said DiFrancesco to the class of eighth grade students in Columbus School in Union City, who had told her how they used their computers in every class. "You really could have a great life if you work."

DiFrancesco visited Columbus Elementary School on March 27 as part of her effort to visit many of the Abbott, or special needs, school districts in the state.

DiFrancesco's husband is up for election this coming November. He faces a challenge in the Republican primary this June.

"I want to see what works and what doesn't," said DiFrancesco about her visit. "Obviously this program is working."

Union City has been lauded nationally for its computer programs.

"There are some really great programs here that we can start in other school districts," said the governor's office's chief of protocol, Cheryl Berkebile Stowell.

"Just being here shows a commitment to urban education," said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Highton. "Our urban school systems are very important.," said DiFrancesco. "A large number of the students in this state attend schools in urban areas. There are a lot of positives. The Abbott districts are doing a great job."

DiFrancesco took a tour of the school, stopping to talk to some of the students along the way.

"[DiFrancesco] wants to see a typical day at Columbus School," said Principal Frank Acinapura.

This tour included stopping in an eighth grade classroom and taking a virtual field trip to the Liberty Science Center with a sixth grade class.

Tech savvy

DiFrancesco chose to visit Columbus School because of the advances that the school has taken in integrating technology into the classroom.

"This technology program in this school kind of stuck out," said Stowell.

"It is one thing to read about [these technology programs] and another to see the kids working with them," said DiFrancesco.

The students in Columbus School not only use computers in every class, but also take many virtual field trips to Liberty Science Center in Jersey City and many other educational trips.

While DiFrancesco was visiting, one class of sixth-grade students was learning the parts of the eye with the help of the Liberty Science Center staff via the computer. The class was watching the dissection of a real cow's eye. "I come from days when we still used manual typewriters," said DiFrancesco, who was very impressed with the field trip that the students were on. "This way you can look away. In my day, we had to touch our worms and starfish."

"Our students have such a giant step ahead of the kids in a lot of other schools," said Acinapura.

Columbus School also has one of the highest set of GEPA test scores in the state. GEPA is a state examination taken by all eighth-grade students, which test the students' knowledge in literature, math, science and social studies.

Acinapura said that one student told him, "If they keep doing so well on the GEPA test, everybody is going to call us nerds." Acinapura said he replied, "That's okay. Let them call you nerd now. In 10 years they'll be calling you boss."

DiFrancesco also visited Curries Woods Preschool in Jersey City.

"It is a community-based program," said DiFrancesco. "I am really impressed with the whole program."

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