Elliott Morris is just 10.
But it's easy to forget that when teachers tell stories about how often he comes to the rescue at school when they are struggling with their laptops or PCs.
A sixth-grader in the Talented and Gifted magnet program at Glenarden Woods Elementary School, Elliott has tinkered with computers since he was a 2-year-old toddler learning his alphabet on a program customized by his dad. Today, he probably knows more about computers than the average adult three times his age.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that his dad, Fred, works in the software technical support office of a computer company and is a techie himself. But Elliott and his computer-literate peers at Glenarden Woods give us a glimpse at the major role computers play in the lives of children who will be growing up in the new millennium.
It gives us some idea, too, just how much schools will have to do in the coming years to train teachers and staff educated in a less technological age.
Principal Oretha Bridgwaters isn't wasting any time. She set up a committee three years ago at Glenarden Woods to come up with a plan to upgrade the school's technology and enhance the staff's knowledge of computers. The committee resolved to put computers in every classroom, provide every teacher a laptop and survey the teachers to determine their technology needs.
"If we don't train the teachers to use the technology, they're never going to use it in the classrooms, and all the money we've spent is wasted," said Mary Ellen Frank, a science teacher and the school's in-house techie.
It didn't take long for the committee to discover that some of the students, who had been using computers for years at home, could help in a big way. Frank taught Elliott and two other sixth-graders, Elijah Barrett and Eric Soderholm--the so-called Three E's--to troubleshoot on the computers.
But occasionally, even she learned from them.
One day in class, Frank was teaching her students formulas to help them use a computer spreadsheet to crunch numbers when Elijah raised his hand.
"He said, 'Oh no, Mrs. Frank, there's a faster way,' " she recalled. "He had a faster way I had never tried. I had done my grade book on computers for years, and I never knew it was there."
But of all the students, Elliott seems the most eager to help. He even gave up a day off school to assist with the computers. While other students were at home Oct. 11, Elliott went to school to assist with the computers during teacher workshops and parent-teacher conferences. He taught teachers how to make a Power Point presentation, complete with sound and animation. He demonstrated how to use new digital camera technology, and he bounced from room to room to tutor teachers who needed extra help.
"One thing I noticed is that some of the older teachers know a lot less about computers," Elliott said. "I found it was much easier to tell the young ones how to do something. They at least had a clue what I was talking about."
When the new laptops arrived at the school, Elliott was right there.
"I helped set them up," he said. "And if the teachers were having problems, they would call me, and I would find time during lunch or recess to help them. It took a lot of time for some of the teachers to master the mouse."
At one point, Elliott's parents, who live in Laurel, began to worry whether their son's education was being disrupted by the regular calls for computer help. But Elliott and the school's staff assured them that he wasn't missing out on classroom instruction and that he was called on so often because he really enjoyed helping.
The couple say they never pushed Elliott to learn the computer, and they are pleased that he is so well-rounded. He plays soccer and, like most children his age, he loves video games and watching television.
But they bought educational games to make the computer fun for him. Fred Morris taught his son to operate programs without any help and gave Elliott the freedom to explore.
Elliott often uses the Internet for research, but the computer is in an open spot so the parents can walk in at any time and monitor what he is doing. Elliott knows, too, that his dad can always backtrack and retrace his son's steps on the computer.
"Trust is a big thing," Fred Morris said, explaining why he gives his son so much freedom on the computer. "There's so much garbage out there, but I don't think it is proportionally greater than what he might find on the street."
Elizabeth Morris didn't learn to navigate the computer until after Elliott was born. When she returned to work three years later and became manager of Baltimore Spice Inc. in Baltimore, she required computer training for her employees, though some of the workers resisted.
"I just felt strongly that everyone needs a basic understanding of how to interact with computers," she said.
Consider this: By sixth grade, Elliott was already comfortable with the computer skills that many of his mother's adult peers learned for the first time on the job.
Instead of being intimidated by his knowledge and that of his peers, the folks at Glenarden Woods put it to good use. To their credit, the teachers became willing students.
"The teachers at my school are really nice," Elliott said. "They just went on as if I was an adult."
And because of it, the entire school is better off.
"I think in all they helped me to come from just using word processing to putting together a Power Point presentation," Bridgwaters, the principal, said. "I'm much more confident on the computer now."
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.
CAPTION: At Glenarden Woods Elementary, from left, Laura Bartolomei-Hill, Elijah Barrett, Elliott Morris, Eric Soderholm, Greg Howard and Yang Shan.