LEWISTON – A giant chalkboard looms over the classroom teacher Darlene Letourneau has inhabited for more than 25 years.

“I am old-fashioned,” said Letourneau, 59, one of only two teachers in the school to use a chalkboard. “I love my chalk.”

She also loves her iPods, the 10 PCs that line one wall and the MacBook Pro that she bought when she won a grant last month from retailer Best Buy.

Letourneau’s third-graders write and edit material for the school’s only classroom Web site, record podcasts and each year enter a world-wide online contest called CyberFair. In 2003, her class won the top prize, the Platinum Award.

To Letourneau, her computers differ little from the dusty chalk and blackboard at the front of her room.

“They give me tools,” she said.

On a computer, one of the quick benefits is customization. An electronic exercise can be adjusted to each child’s skills without taking too much time.

“I can easily modify it for every kid in the classroom,” she said.

For a kid who likes to write, the computer can be little more than an electronic piece of paper, she said. But for a kid who prefers speaking, recording an audio podcast can give him or her a place to succeed.

It can be a child’s first real success. That’s what Letourneau – who has a reputation in the school as a tough taskmaster – cares about most.

“I will get every child to go to his or her potential and beyond,” she said.

Letourneau started teaching in 1972 at St. Peter’s Elementary School in Lewiston. A few years later, she moved to the public schools and arrived at Martel in 1983.

She has taught the same grade in the same room ever since.

Her past students include the parents of her current students. Teaching assistant Jeff Begin was a student. Fellow third-grade teacher Jacqueline Hamann, who uses an adjoining classroom, was also a student.

“People come up to me all the time in the grocery store and say, ‘Do you remember me?'” Letourneau said. “I tell them, ‘You’ve changed a little bit since you were 8 years old.'”

After all these years, she knows on the first day of school whether each class of 20 kids will be particularly challenging.

“It’s a gut feeling by this time,” Letourneau said.

Who are her favorites?

“Whatever class I am teaching right now,” she said. “They are all my favorites.”

During the 1990s, Letourneau earned two advanced degrees, including a master’s degree in technology in education from Lesley University.

She firmly believes the computers and other technology need to be in classrooms. Without them, schools fail one of the primary jobs.

“You have to look at the world,” she said. “Technology is here.” The kids are growing up surrounded by digital information.

“They’re going to be Blackberry people,” she said.

The school has a responsibility to teach kids how to use computers and other technology, she said.

“If schools don’t, they’ll be struggling all their lives,” Letourneau said.


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