The Raymond Firehouse School is located in Raymond, Maine, a sleepy little town in a scenic part of the state of Maine. Hardly anything big ever happens in Raymond, Maine, except for the big herd of moose that once walked down Main Street on a Tuesday afternoon without any prior warning last November.
The Raymond Firehouse School just sort of happened. Nobody planned it. Nobody sat down and said, "Hey, why don't we start a firehouse school." Nobody got together with a few other people and discussed what would be the best way to run the school. Nobody organized fund raising events to kick off the grand opening of the school.
The school never had any grand opening. In fact, nobody in town actually remembers when the school started. It just started up without any big fuss or fanfare.
When we asked the teachers at the Raymond Firehouse School how the school began, most of them say that the trouble really started when firefighter Betsy Ericsen brought her computer to work one day. While waiting around for emergency calls to come in, Betsy used to play around with her computer. She taught herself how to use about a dozen different programs.
One day, Adam Simon, a third grader at the Raymond Elementary School, was walking by the firehouse on his way home. Adam liked to stop by the firehouse to visit with the firefighters since they always seemed to enjoy having visitors stop by.
When Adam saw Betsy Ericsen's computer, he called out, "Oh, can you show me how to do some things on your computer? At our school we have computer class three times a week, and I already know how to use about four different programs."
Betsy smiled and said, "Sure, you're welcome to use my computer for a little while. I don't have too many games or anything, but you can type a short story using my word processor, if you like."
Adam didn't know how to type very fast, so he asked if Betsy could type a story that he dictated to her. Within ten minutes Betsy had typed up the first three paragraphs of a story. Within fifteen minutes, they were already reaching the end of the story. Betsy didn't have her printer with her at the firehouse, but she promised she'd print out the story using the printer she had at home. Adam thanked her, and said he'd stop by again in a few days to pick up the story. But before Adam left to go home, Betsy asked him what his favorite software was.
As he was walking out the firehouse, Adam yelled back over his shoulder, "My favorite software is called Number Munchers. It's a fun math game where you try to eat the right numbers while avoiding the nasty troggle creatures."
When Betsy got home that night she started thinking about how nice it might be to have students stop by the firehouse after school to use some computers. She called up her friend John Nicodemus, who taught math at the junior high school. John was always enthusiastic about how computers can help kids learn. So when he heard about Betsy's idea, he told her he would see if he could find some people to donate older computers to the firehouse.
John was a member of a computer user group that had an electronic bulletin board. People could call the bulletin board using their computers and a modem. Then they could leave messages for one another.
That night John called the user group's bulletin board and left the following message:
From: John Nicodemus
"I got a phone call this afternoon from Betsy Ericsen, who works as a firefighter downtown. Betsy told me about how she'd like to set up some computers for kids to use after school. She already has one computer that she's using with kids.
Anybody out there have an older computer they might be able to donate to the firehouse? It doesn't have to be fancy or anything. Even a green, monochrome screen would be fine.
If you know anybody who has a computer that they might be able to donate, you can call Betsy at her home phone: 555-1313."
After John posted this message on the bulletin board, nothing happened for two weeks. Betsy got a little discouraged. Surely there were some people in the community who might have an older computer they could donate to the firehouse.
Well, about three months went by and nobody called about donating a computer to the firehouse. Then one day, in the middle of a lazy afternoon, the phone rang.
"Hi, is Betsy there?"
"Yes, this is Betsy."
"Hi Betsy. My name is Alexandra Kay. I work for the phone company.
Yesterday I saw a message on the user group bulletin board that said you're looking for someone to donate a computer to use with kids at the firehouse."
"Yes," said Betsy cautiously. "Do you have a computer you can donate." "No, ma'am, I'm sorry. I don't have one computer to donate. But I could donate five old Macintosh computers."
"Five computers?" asked Betsy in amazement. "Are they all in working order?" she added. "Well, four of them are in working order. The fifth one is missing a keyboard card." "Oh, that's not a big problem. I could buy one of those from a mail order company," replied Betsy.
"You wouldn't happen to have any software to go with the computers," Betsy asked politely. "No, I'm afraid I don't."
"Well, we could always find some public domain software for the kids to use."
So ten days later the five Macintosh computers were set up in the firehouse. Adam was pleased to find out that his favorite program, Number Munchers, was installed on one of the computers.
Over the next few months Betsy Ericsen continued to teach the kids who stopped by after school. And she continued to show the other firefighters how to use computers. Who would have thought that a firehouse school could have started up this way? Looking back, it all seems a little bit magical. But everything interesting always has a touch of magic in it anyway, don't you think?
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