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[whitespace] Rep. Mike Honda unveils first legislative initiative at Campbell school

Campbell--In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy urged Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country."

His words inspired the creation of the Peace Corps, and, in this spirit of volunteerism, Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) has launched the National Education Technology Corps. The proposed nationwide program will recruit volunteers in the technology industry to bring their experience and expertise into classrooms.

"NET Corps is a new approach at the federal level to improve the possibilities of education through technology," said Honda at the March 5 launch of the initiative at Rosemary Elementary School in Campbell. Honda introduced the legislation in the U.S. Congress on March 8.

According to Honda, a former high school science teacher and principal in the San Jose area, the NET Corps program is designed to recruit part-time and full-time volunteers from high-tech companies for America's schools, to help network administrators provide services to classroom teachers and libraries.

NET Corps volunteers will also be recruited from undergraduate and graduate programs at universities across the country, and, according to Honda, they must possess a minimum level of expertise that will be determined by the Corporation for National Service.

"One of the difficult things that occurs in schools that have high-tech equipment is the maintenance," said Honda. "We want to be able to support the schools in this manner. It's a critical piece of the big picture that will support classroom teachers and the youngsters."

The proposed legislation would amend the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, to create this new volunteer service program. The Corporation for National Service's VISTA program will administer NET Corps and it will share in VISTA's mission to serve the nation's disadvantaged communities, according to Honda's press office.

"The important thing to remember about NET Corps is that it will be voluntary and flexible," said Honda. "It will be voluntary because the schools will choose to apply for the grant. It will be flexible because every school will be different and their needs will be different; and we want to be able to fit the solution to the problem," he said.

"NET Corps will also contribute to the improvement of classroom education for our children by coupling the specific needs of our school systems with the energy and intellect of some of the high tech industry folks too, and also the brightest and best out there," Honda added.

Honda, who served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador from 1965 to 1967, emphasized the importance of giving back to one's community.

"Volunteerism is probably the single most common strand that we have in this country," he said, "Regardless of our generation, it is the same. Recent immigrants come and they volunteer to help each other. Those of us who are here already have this community spirit, this American 'can-do' attitude," said Honda.

"When I talk to high tech executives and people who work in business they're always looking for ways to be involved in the community, and they understand that investment in community in the long run benefits everybody," he added. "It's not a new concept, but we want to tap into that strength and that existing spirit."

Leon Beauchman, vice president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, also served in the Peace Corps from 1977 to 1978 in Guana, West Africa, and shares Honda's commitment to volunteerism.

"My experience in the Peace Corps was very profound," Beauchman said. "It gave me a real perspective of how other people live. This new program is needed -overdue. I would like to see what we can do as a community to make it happen," he said.

To encourage participation in NET Corps, the federal government will offer a 20 percent tax credit to private corporations that lend their employees to the program. Corporations who take advantage of this tax credit can claim no more than $25,000 per employee.

"NET Corps is an excellent model for improving the capabilities of our schools because it creates incentives for the private sector to become more involved in education," said Honda. "By creating incentives for our high-tech companies to get further involved in education," he said, "we can build meaningful relationships between our schools and our businesses."

TECH CORPS is an example of one company that is already putting the program into action. A national nonprofit organization that was established in 1995, TECH CORPS boasts 10,000 technical volunteers who conduct teacher-training seminars, mentor students and staff, repair and install computers, participate on technology planning teams, and work side-by-side with teachers in the classroom providing in-person support.

"One might ask whether such a partnership is realistic," said Bill Maguire, California program director for TECH CORPS. "Based on TECH CORPS' experience, I can state that a surprising number of so-called 'techies' are hungry to share their skills and are looking for volunteer opportunities where their efforts can have a real impact. The NET Corps proposal is an important initiative that will have a positive impact on our nation's schools and increase volunteerism among techies," he said.

Johanna Vandermolen, superintendent of Campbell Union School District, sees this initiative as a long-term benefit for young people.

"We're trying to take our kids into the tech industry and this will help bridge the gap," Vandermolen said, "I think it will be well received and make a lot of difference in the lives of the kids."

Rosemary Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Kimber Olinger is no stranger to technology in the classroom. Olinger, who is also the school's on-site tech coordinator, features multimedia equipment in her classroom, which includes almost a dozen computers, three TV's and a video camera.

"Kids need to start being savvy users of technology," Olinger said. "My classroom isn't typical, and the district has been very supportive with funds for some of the computers. What Mike Honda is doing is great. By working with students to learn how to do Internet research," she said, "we are providing models for how technology is used in the world."

Barbara Anderson, principal of Rosemary Elementary School, worked with Honda when he was a principal in Silicon Valley.

"The spirit of volunteerism is so important," said Anderson. "We try and teach our kids the value of it. It is our responsibility to give back to people," she said, "and this is a wonderful example of this put into action."
Amy Goodpaster Strebe

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