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MECC plugs small town into computer age

Although this town is small (pop. 1,500) and surrounded by a sea of farms, the MECC has helped place it in the mainstream of computer education. According to Noel Johnson, computer coordinator for the district, St. Francis has a good number of microcomputers (12 in the high school alone); more than two-thirds of the teachers are computer literate (thanks to MECC-sponsored training seminars); and scores of students are headed into computer or computer-related fields.

Here are some glimpses of this district's encounter with computers:

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* Mike Keegan grew up on a local farm and never touched a keyboard until ninth grade. Now a graduating senior from St. Francis High, he just finished a computer program that approximates curves in a similar fashion to calculus - but takes a fraction of the time. ''I want to be an astrophysicist, and computers will help,'' says Mike, who will enter Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the fall.

Five recent St. Francis graduates went directly to work for MECC as computer programmers.

* At St. Francis Elementary School, fourth-grader Melinda Mugger is glued to her classroom's one computer. She is writing a poem, explains teacher Grace Snead, while learning the first steps of programming. Unlike some of her colleagues across the country, Ms. Snead has no fear of computers replacing teachers. ''Never! Even if I used computers all day long, I'm still the organizer'' and must fit each lesson to individual needs.

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