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Mt. Abe opens computer labs to the public

BRISTOL — To meet the high demand for computer use in Bristol and surrounding towns, Mount Abraham Union High School is opening its computer labs to the public. The school is able to hire a coordinator for that lab thanks to a $4,000 grant from the e-Vermont Project — the final installment for the program.
Beginning Aug. 15, the school will initiate a trial period, making computers available to the public from 3:30-7 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
For the past year, the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol has scrambled to deal with an increased demand for its computers, said librarian Nancy Wilson.
“What happens at 3 p.m. is that the students get out of school and they need to use the computers,” said Wilson. “But adults also need to use the computers, so we get jammed up.”
To relieve that jam and provide computer training for less-experienced computer users, Mount Abe Principal Andy Kepes and a team of teachers decided to create the “open computer lab project.” With about 30 computers already in place, the school needed roughly $4,000 to pay for someone to run the project.
That’s where the school’s library media specialist, Lauran Mina, and e-Vermont came in.
Mina already has a $100,000 Rowland Fellowship with fellow educator Lauren Parren to figure out how to expand and reinvent Mount Abe’s library to better cater to students’ and educators’ individual needs.
Kepes and Mina figured this last piece of Bristol’s e-Vermont grant would fit perfectly into their research, so Mina decided to take on the role of project coordinator. The $4,000 in e-Vermont funds will pay for the hours Mina works over the next 25 weeks, as she figures out how to best implement the open computer lab project.
Furthermore, Mina will provide one-on-one tutoring to those computer users who aren’t computer savvy. She’s hoping that rather than a free-for-all for public use, the open computer labs will turn into centers for furthering education, whether they’re used for online classes or computer-based research.
“It’s a sensitive balance because this is a school,” said Mina. “We’re trying to tailor the project so that people come in with the purpose of furthering education.”
At the end of the 25 weeks, Mina’s goal is to have the program running on the backs of volunteers. If she can do that, the program would be free for the public and cost close to nothing for the school.
LAST E-VERMONT GRANT
With a $4,000 installment in Bristol, the federally and locally funded e-Vermont program is over — all $3.8 million of it.
“That’s it,” said e-Vermont Project Director Helen Labun Jordan. “This is the last project we’re launching.”
The program was created with an initial $2.5 million investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2010. It aimed to improve Internet access in rural Vermont and was responsible for major Internet upgrades in 24 towns across the state. Bristol was one of the first towns to receive funding from e-Vermont, and that grant funded the town’s free wireless zone as well as other service and technology upgrades, like the coordinator position for Bristol’s new public computer labs.
While e-Vermont will be a thing of the past, Labun Jordan made sure to point out that its supporting organizations — like the Vermont Council on Rural Development and Vermont State Colleges, to name a couple — will still exist.
“When we say e-Vermont is done, we don’t mean those organizations are going away,” she said. “It just means we don’t have grant funds for those collaborative efforts anymore.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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