A Puerto Rican educational initiative is using online social networking, competitions, rewards and technology to get kids interested in studying outside of the classroom, and the program could soon be in Atlanta.
Seven high school students and four staff members of Operacion Exito, or Operation Success, an online study program founded in San Juan, Puerto Rico, arrived in Atlanta May 15 on a trip sponsored by Delta Air Lines Inc. They won the vacation by taking part in Operation Success’ academic competitions.
The program is currently offered in Chile, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Spain. The first U.S. operations are to launch in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla., next year, Cecilia Amador, Operation Success’ program director for Puerto Rico, told GlobalAtlanta.
As the program expands into the U.S., it will also expand its curriculum from the current focus on math and science to all school subjects.
Noel Quiñones, Operation Success’ founder, presented the program in cities around the U.S. and got the best response from administrators in education departments in those two cities.
Ms. Amador said that Mr. Quiñones, a moviemaker, founded Operation Success after filming in several Puerto Rican schools and being surprised by how deteriorated the facilities were.
He worked in partnership with the Puerto Rico Education Department to develop Operation Success, and his company, Casa Grande Interactive Communications, now operates the Operation Success Web site.
“Kids don’t learn the same way anymore,” Ms. Amador said. “In the classroom they have a blackboard, but at home they see all this technology. After school they’re on video games and computers, so how can we step up education to make it interesting for them?”
Operation Success requires students to register at www.operation-success.com and have a profile similar to other social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace.
Students then have access to an online mathematics and science curriculum approved by the education department that includes downloadable files, video tutorials and chat sessions with real teachers.
They can study and take online tests and, if they achieve an acceptable score, are put into a raffle to take part in an annual live competition.
Winners of the face-to-face challenge, which Ms. Amador said draws about 2,000 students and creates excitement like American Idol, can win prizes including cars, cell phones, computers and vacations like the Atlanta trip.
Asked if she was nervous during the competition, Shadey Mercado Pérez, one of the visiting students, said that she did not have time to feel anxious.
“I was dancing,” she said. “They put cool techno music everywhere and when I was finished I couldn’t believe it went so fast.”
Ms. Perez added that she got involved with Operation Success because her teacher encouraged her to compete. Ms. Amador said that the teacher at Jaime a Collazo del Rio high school in Morovis, Puerto Rico, got 900 kids involved with the program and is one of many educators getting their students involved.
“We found teachers that use (Operation Success), are motivating it and have the fire for it,” she said. “It’s improving relationships between students and teachers … teachers are becoming heroes again.”
Ms. Amador added that schools win prizes like pizza parties and computers for having the highest participation and students can nominate teachers for awards and vacations.
George Blanco, Delta’s account executive for Puerto Rico, Bermuda and the eastern Caribbean in San Juan accompanied the delegation on the trip, during which they toured Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum and other sites in the metro area.
At the museum, the group visited new exhibits inside the Spirit of Delta, a Boeing 767 purchased by company employees in 1982.
The students and staff toured CNN Center and the Georgia Aquarium. They also went to an Atlanta Braves baseball game, the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum and Zoo Atlanta.
Carlos Alvarado Meléndez, another student on the trip, said that Operation Success organizers keep the exact trip programs secret, to add to the excitement, but that he went online before arriving to see what attractions Atlanta had to offer.
Smaller prizes include a day with a professional in a field in which students might want to work, including astronomy, aviation, broadcasting and mechanics.
Ms. Amador said that the idea for the one-day trips is to begin “turning kids to where they’re going to be working, to bring technology into schools and make it relevant.”
The prizes are provided by Operation Success’ sponsors, including Puerto Rico-based companies Popular Inc., parent company of Banco Popular; Claro Puerto Rico, the island’s largest mobile phone network; DMAX, the Internet provider for the Puerto Rico Telephone Co.; El Nuevo Dia newspaper and Univision Puerto Rico.
U.S. companies with international operations such as Delta, Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. also support the program and provide prizes.