Ariana Yea, 10, helps Gabriel Ruvalcaba, 11, as they use their Apple MacBooks to review lessons in the Rowland Unified School District.

Students used to give apples to teachers to get ahead.

These days, teachers are returning the favor.

Of course, these Apples are laptop computers. And Ybarra and Oswalt Academies think the thinking machines will revolutionize education as much as a falling apple sparked Isaac Newton's profound theory of gravity.

"We think the laptops will literally change the way our students learn. Both parents and staff think the computers are absolutely essential to prepare our kids for today's technological society," explained Oswalt Principal Astrid Ramirez.

The enthusiastic administrator led visitors into the fifth-grade classroom of Cathy Sutherlund in Walnut. The class was eerily quiet as the students studied their slim white machines.

The fifth-graders were busy adding graphics to documents. Instead of drawing pictures, the students were finding photos to illustrate their stories.

The students were among the first to receive their glossy new computers. The local academy distributed 240 laptops to students in the fifth- and sixth-grades, as well as eight to their instructors.

This was their first week of instruction with the powerful little computers, and everyone was excited.

"It even has a built in digital camera that will take your picture," explained Wyatt Swift-Ramirez.

The 11-year-old deftly manipulated a picture of himself with the different computer programs. Some morphed Wyatt into a comic book character,

others made him a Monet.

He showed 10-year-old classmate Alissa Rey a song he was composing on Garage Band.

"Our MacBook computers are really great," Rey agreed. "I love working on them."

Their teacher seemed just as enthusiastic about the new machines. Sutherlund thought this might be the biggest change she has seen in 32 years of teaching.

"They're great because they use all the kid's senses," Sutherlund said. "The students enjoy the interaction with their laptops."

Even their parents were excited about the laptop program, even though they had to pay $1,300 for their child's machines.

"We came up with five different financing options to help the families afford the computers," Oswalt's principal explained. "There's even scholarships available for families who need some help financially."

Wyatt's mother, Kristin, thinks the laptops are essential.

"All the parents are behind them because we think it will really help our kids. I know Wyatt has become very motivated by his new laptop," the tall blonde said.

The laptops are owned by the individual students. They come complete with all the educational programs installed.

"We even have some of their

Frankie Hernandez logs onto his Apple MacBook.
textbooks in digital form so they won't have to carry their books home to do homework," Sutherlund said.

The teacher said she is also digitizing her worksheets and homework assignments. Just think of all the paper the classroom will save.

Parent Wendy Cheng is also very enthusiastic about the Apples of the students' eyes.

"I think they'll make a huge difference," Cheng said, even though her two young kids won't receive their laptops until later.

Principal Ramirez said the academy was rolling the program out in stages. She hopes each of her 840 students will have a laptop within three years.

"This way we can work all the bugs out as we go," Ramirez said.

The administrator notes the Apple computers have "wonderful" educational support.

"Apple instructors even came out four days to show us how to teach with the laptops," Ramirez said.

"This is an awesome program. The change is important because it'll help the students succeed in life. They need these computer skills for today's working world," said Geri Wang, vice-president of the Friends of Rowland Unified Schools.

If success can be measured by the students' enthusiasm, then the Apples are already a big hit.

"One student said he has already written and illustrated a 24-page comic book on his laptop," Ramirez said. "And he promises more installments later."

richard.irwin@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801