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February 12. 2013 11:35PM

Manchester school computer labs still missing volunteers

MANCHESTER - While city school officials have relied on donations to equip high school computer labs, they have been less successful in securing the volunteers needed to operate the labs on a daily basis.

As of Tuesday, only one volunteer has committed to staff one of the "blended learning labs" that's opened at each of the city's three high schools, said Assistant Superintendent Michael Tursi.

The volunteers are key to Mayor Ted Gatsas' drive to modernize city schools by making online courses available to middle and high school students. Students can access the online courses through any computer hookup, but Gatsas has pushed to open a blended learning lab at each high school.

Three area companies - The Scrivanos Group, Quirk Auto Dealers and Dyn - have donated $35,000, which allowed the school district to equip the labs in the three high schools. Two weeks ago, Gatsas lauded the donors at a ceremony held at the West High School lab.

Gatsas said Monday that discussions are under way with a company - he would not name it - that is encouraging its workers to volunteer in the labs.

"I've had several phone calls from people interested in volunteering," Tursi said last week. "I'm optimistic. People need time to process the information, look at their schedules and see if it's feasible."

Tursi said he wants the labs open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday. He'd like to have two or three volunteers for each high school. Ideally, the same group of volunteers would be on hand for consistency's sake, he said.

Volunteers are needed to monitor the students, to ensure safety, and to address any technical issues that may arise, Tursi said. Volunteers will not teach classes or have anything to do with the coursework. Nor would they be expected to quell any student conflicts, he said.

Every volunteer must attend a two-day training session put on by Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, which provides the online courses to the students. Tursi said he wants three volunteers signed up before the workshop is held.

School district policy requires any volunteer to undergo a criminal background check and pay a $25 fee to be fingerprinted. Gatsas said funds left over from the donations will pay for the fingerprinting.

Tursi said most of the people who contacted him about volunteering have technical skills.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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