Principal Lena Van Haren called 8th graders at Everett Middle School to the auditorium to hear about high school applications.
They filed in, sat, and waited. Then, District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who could easily pass for a professor, walked on stage. “You all have been tricked,” he said. “I am not from the school district, and I am not here to talk about high school applications.”
Then, from behind the thick, blue stage curtain Facebook’s Chief Information Officer Tim Campos walked out and asked if anyone knew who Mark Zuckerberg was. Only about 10 hands shot up.
“You have to have technology in order to have access to technology,” Campos told the kids who soon learned that he had brought the hardware with him.
“We are giving each and every one of you a laptop,” he said. Astonishment. They held their breaths for just a second before they cheered, clapped, and looked at one another in disbelief.
“I know some of you will be creating the next Facebook,” Campos continued. To make sure this could happen, Facebook handed out over 100 Lenovo Thinkpads.
“I was in shock,” said 8th grader Ana Sara Malaquais.
Luorang Lamu, another student, said that a teacher showed her a website last year that listed U.S. colleges, and she plans to spend a lot of time on her new laptop doing her research, although she sounded like she already had a five year plan. First comes Lowell High School and then she wants to go to either Harvard or Stanford, she said.
Spirits fell when students discovered the computers have to stay at school, but they picked up quickly after hearing that when they walk out of Everett after graduation in May, they’ll leave with both their diplomas and their individual computers.
They took that practice walk on Friday – striding across the stage to receive their laptops and then posing for pictures with their new black PCs.
“I asked my teacher on the way up if this is all real,” said Lamu.
Facebook’s donation comes completely separate of the School Improvement Grant funding, which are federal funds that will run out this year, the money Marc Benioff of salesforce.com plans to give the city’s twelve middle schools, and the Mission Promise Neighborhood grants, all of which Everett has received. Educators say it has all helped improve the school dramatically over the last three years.
The middle school moved up 40 points in the Academic Performance Index, which has made it the most improved school in the entire city in the last year. The school, however, still performs below the district average on standardized tests.
“There is a reason that this group of students was chosen to get this gift,” said Van Haren, who only found out about the donation on Monday. “You guys came to school here in 6th grade almost two and a half years ago, and at that time our school had just received a grant to turn around. It was a school that parents didn’t necessarily want to send their kids to … It was not a school we are as proud of as we are now.”
Facebook reached out to Wiener a few months ago to ask which schools should receive the computers. Wiener chose Everett and Mission High, which also received 25 laptops on Friday. It is a donation that will double the number of computers in their lab.
“As the federal grant money runs out, it’s really important that we all continue to support Everett and make sure this school continues to succeed,” said Wiener, referring to the School Improvement Grants.
This is Facebook’s first time donating computers to schools in San Francisco, but they have already done this in communities closer to their headquarters such as those in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
“We tend to focus in areas where we have a local relationship with the community,” Campos said. “A lot of our employees live in San Francisco, and San Francisco is a key part of Facebook’s involvement in the Bay Area,” he continued, adding that the point is to get excited about science, technology, engineering, and math.
“One of the ways we do that is by giving them access to technology that they may not have otherwise be able to have.”
Everett’s teachers plan to use the laptops in the four main areas of study: English, math, science, and social studies.
“Our science teacher wants to go paperless now and do everything through the internet. Now we can actually do that in the [class]rooms,” Gardner said.
Follow Andra Cernavskis on Twitter: @AndraCernavskis