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COMPUTER-AIDED KIDS ARE HAPPILY-EVER-AFTER WRITING OWN STORIES

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Seven-year-old Rosalina Rodriguez wants to be a reporter when she grows up. She's off to a good start.

On Oct. 24, Rosalina, who attends Guadalupe School, an alternative school in the Salt Lake School District, was published in the national newspaper, USA Today. Heady stuff for a first grader, or anyone."My dad went to the gas station quick and bought a paper. My mom cut it out and she's going to put it in a frame," said the daughter of Mike and Pam Rodriguez.

While many first graders struggle with writing their names and a few simple words, Rosalina and her classmates are already writing short stories with the aid of a computer.

The Guadalupe School uses IBM's Writing to Read Program, in which the children first learn to spell words the way they sound before making the transition to standard spelling.

"The spelling is not correct, but the children can read what they write. `Bk' might be used for `book,' but the child hears the `b' sound and the `k' sound," said Rosalina's first grade teacher, Dolores Malovich.

The Writing to Read program was the focus of the USA Today story, which published a short paragraph from either a kindergartners or first grader in each of the 50 states.

In Utah, Guadalupe School is the only one in the Salt Lake School District to use Writing to Read. Some schools in the Alpine and Davis school districts as well as the private Waterford School also use the program.

"First graders and kindergartners who learn to write and read with their computers are symbolic of the educational achievements of computer technology," said USA Today.

Rosalina's paragraph was published as she wrote it, misspellings and all. She and her classmates examined an Oct. 10 edition of USA Today, and their teacher read some of the articles to them.

They then wrote about the pictures or stories or made up their own. Rosalina said she looked at Connie Chung and decided to write about who she should interview.

The school, which had been asked by USA Today to participate, submitted the work of 25 students, and the newspaper chose Rosalina's to represent Utah students.

Rosalina began the Writing to Read program as a kindergartner last year, the first year Guadalupe used the computer program.

Kindergarten teacher Vi Esquibel, a 16-year veteran, said she'd never return to teaching reading and writing in the traditional manner. She reported that this year's kindergarten class could recognize an average of four letters in the alphabet on the first day of school.

Now, two months later, more than 50 percent can distinguish between all upper and lower case letters.

"I'm just amazed at the progress the children can make" with the computer, she said.