Originally created 04/22/04

Learning on wheels



McCORMICK, S.C. - Barbara Barker doesn't get to use a computer very often, but once a week she can brush up on her typing and math skills without leaving the parking lot of her Westowne apartment complex in McCormick.

Mrs. Barker, along with about 45 parents and pupils from across the county, board a 35-foot RV equipped with 12 computers, a television and a small library each week to learn skills they need to earn their general equivalency diploma, to find a job or to play educational games.

Mrs. Barker, 56, uses the computers aboard the Lifelong Learning Center RV to write letters to her grandchildren or do math problems to keep her mind alert.

"I do a lot of paperwork at home, and having this come to our neighborhood each week lets me practice my skills," she said.

"Doing math problems is great because the computer tells you what you got right and wrong, and you can work at your own pace."

Mrs. Barker has been using the RV, which travels to about six locations throughout the rural county, since 1996, when the McCormick County School District purchased the $75,000 vehicle and started offering the service.

When the RV arrived in the parking lot of Westowne apartments Wednesday morning, about eight people flocked to the vehicle within minutes.

Brenda Collins, an outreach educator for the county, drives the RV to sites and helps adults and pupils find the educational program that fits them best.

Adults can take courses at their own speed. Pupils can continue their education after school - the computers contain the same software available to them in the classroom, Mrs. Collins said.

"For a lot of these adults, this is the only time they get to use a computer, and a lot of them need to learn skills to get a job," she said.

"You see people working on résumés, doing math problems or just learning how to use a spreadsheet. And the kids really enjoy coming after school."

On Wednesday, LaKesia Crite, 26, stepped into the RV for the first time. Ms. Crite, who is unemployed and working toward earning her GED, said she could gain valuable math skills she needs to be able to earn her diploma.

"It will really help with my practice," she said. "It's a different way to learn skills."

Sanquinetta Leverette, an educator who drives the RV to different sites, said seeing people excited and eager to use the equipment shows that the classroom is working.

"Anything they get right on the computer, they get really excited about, and I'll give them assignments to work on at home, and they can't wait to show me when I come back the next week," she said.

"It's great to see someone learn how to use a computer for the first time. They really love it."

Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395 or peter.gilchrist@augustachronicle.com.