As they entered Robert Pronovost’s second grade classroom, the children all turned to look over their left shoulders at these visitors who were carrying blue tote bags filled with laptops.
“You guys are from Facebook!” one child exclaimed.
In the back of the room, Mouse Squad members awaited, clipboards and pencils in hand; they had given up their lunch hour to be there when they arrived.
Facebook employees hand-delivered 50 laptops to Belle Haven Elementary Monday afternoon, which will be used in an after school program called the Mouse Squad that utilizes technology to teach lessons about leadership.
“It was amazing to me that they were donating this many laptops,” said second grade teacher Robert Pronovost, who is a Stanford alum.
“I was thinking, okay, maybe we’ll get 15 or 20; I hadn’t counted on this!” he said.
Four years ago, Pronovost co founded the Mouse Squad program at Belle Haven Elementary with the goal of giving children from East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto the chance to obtain the computer maintenance skills that are par for the course in other districts such as the Menlo Park City School District down the road.
“We don’t even have a computer teacher at our school,” he said. The school is one of 12 within the Ravenswood district, all of which serve historically underprivileged communities of color. The enrolled population is 79 percent Hispanic, 11 percent African-American, and 9 percent Pacific Islander.
When the Mouse Squad began, it was comprised of about 10 students between 6th and eighth grade. It has since grown to about 20 students who are interested in careers in the technology sector. This group is one of 419 squads around the country that are focused on creating student tech support teams at schools where having a dedicated technician for teachers is not a financially viable option.
“The program, modeled on industry-standard help desks in business and industry, prepares and supports participants in the cultivation of technical and leadership skills needed for success in all work environments,” according to mousesquad.org.
Pronovost models his lesson plans from the ones that are available for download on the site to teaches these students how to solve problems such as installing printer drivers onto a computer, and handling the “difficult” interactions that they will face helping teachers.
“Sometimes by the time a teacher asks for help, they’re really frustrated and that can be hard for students to manage,” he said.
After completing that stage in the training, each student will be assigned an apprentice, a process that converts student into teacher. This hands-on experience in peer leadership has helped some middle schoolers who were “socially awkward” become more responsible and mature, says Pronovost. Other former Mouse Squaders are using the foundation of knowledge gained from the program to build a career path for themselves that may not have otherwise been available to them.
One of the original Mouse Squaders, who now attends East Side Preparatory School, has expounded upon the wisdom he gained in the program, and recently sent Pronovost a draft proposal for a novel approach to building a computer monitor that uses less energy than a conventional one.
“By the time Jesus Garnica was finished with the program, he was teaching me things about Linux that I didn’t know,” Pronovost said, exuding confidence about his students' capabilities.
He plans to place four laptops in each classroom at the school, each of which will be serviced by the students.
And although it is not clear who added who on Facebook, the offline friendship between Lauren Swezey, Facebook's Community Relations Manager, and the Ravenswood Elementary School District is off to a good start.
“We hope to continue to partnering with them on initiatives that are going to make the students more successful,” Swezey said. “We want to be a good neighbor,” she added.
The social media company is ramping up its corporate social responsibility department's initiatives in Menlo Park since it moved its headquarters into town.
The company donated computers to the Mt. Olive Church in East Menlo Park and the Onetta Harris Communty Center earlier this year, and plans to continue making a positive impact in the community.
The following Facebook employees brought the laptops to the classroom that day:
- Bruce Turner
- Patrick Cotter
- Kathy McDonell
- Steve Tsuruoka
- Isaac Salinas
- Gerardo Silva
- Sherman Avila
- Julian Delgadillo
- Lauren Swezey
- Benito Bellot
- John Tenanes
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