Smiling faces for Facebook gift

Andrew Hayles stood to the side of the stage at John Phillip Sousa Junior High School’s auditorium, cradling his shiny silver laptop.

The eighth grader paused for a moment, eyebrows furrowed, before answering the question. This was, after all, the first computer to his name.

“My first move will be going on YouTube to watch a music video,” he said after a beat. “Well, either that or I’ll do homework.”

Hayles and the 97 other John Phillip Sousa eighth graders will have plenty of time to rev up their search engines and surf the web.

Facebook, the online social networking firm, doled out refurbished MacBooks to the entire eighth grade class at the Baychester middle school on Monday, Sept. 23.

The refurbished Mac laptops were flown in from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, and are part of the social network’s effort to provide students at struggling schools with the technology needed to compete, said a Facebook spokesman.

Facebook kicked off its program with a giveaway at a school in East Palo Alto, California, and also plans to give laptops to students at the Museum Magnet School at P.S. 191 in Manhattan.

The $100 billion dollar company chose John Phillip Sousa after working with local community leaders to target New York City schools where students would benefit most from a free computer.

Baychester’s John Phillip Sousa was placed on a citywide “phase out” list in March after an educational panel deemed it one of the weakest schools in the city. The school is scheduled to shutter in June 2015.

“There are so many needy schools, but we ended up choossing this one. We’re excited to see these students empowered on their academic journey,” said Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation.

The eighth graders lined the auditorium stage on Monday, where Facebook employees and local politicians handed them the computers. The walls were plastered with handcrafted posters thanking Facebook —one included a “thumbs up” sketched with blue magic marker.

“To be able to see our eighth graders, the legacy of John Phillip Sousa, with these laptops is an honor,” said the school’s principal, Louisa Palmer.

Most of her students have never owned a computer, said Palmer. She hopes that the teenagers will use the laptops to research schoolwork and said that she’s purchased internet-based educational programs.

Facebook software engineer Kwame Thomison, who as a kid learned how to program video games using on-line tutorials, suggested that the students use the laptops to satisfy their own curiosities.

“ If you want to be an artist, or a movie director, you can go home, make a video and share it with millions of people. You couldn’t do that 20 years ago,” he said.

Eighth grader Rachel Hinton had a simpler plan for her first on-line activity:

“I’m going to post on Facebook and tell all my friends about this.”

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