The well-connected

Cindy logs onto her home computer and sends an English paper to her hotmail account. While she bops to a tune streaming from the Internet, she dashes off an instant message to a friend with a question about a Spanish phrase that might come up on their test.

And this is all before breakfast.

By the end of the week, she'll have downloaded two study guides, plagiarized a paragraph from one of them, looked up two colleges, and created her own Web page.

Cindy is just my composite character – but her forays into the online world represent a group that's growing as fast as you can say Google.com. About 30 to 40 percent of American teenagers fall into this "Internet-savvy" category, according to a study commissioned by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org).

"The Digital Disconnect," released last week, draws on the voices of more than 300 middle and high school students, most of them self-described heavy Internet users. Their main message is that teachers' fears of or lack of familiarity with the Internet is severely limiting its educational potential.

But that doesn't stop them from going home or to the library to use the Internet as a tutor, an up-to-date textbook, a guidance counselor, a storage center for papers and schedules, and a way to communicate with study groups.

Although students do sometimes use online tools as shortcuts, or to cheat, more often they're pursuing subjects they're passionate about.

Internet-savvy students strongly advocate closing the digital divide; they can't see how classmates get by without daily online access.

Far from wishing their teachers would just leave them alone to do their thing, these students want an education that reflects the reality of their Internet-saturated lives.

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