STUDENTS SHAKEN BY COMPUTER THEFT.
Penny by penny, nickel by nickel, students of Calabash Street Elementary School finally saved enough money last year to buy two new computers so each classroom could have its own.
These were the schools' jewels. The new systems were faster, held more memory and included CD-ROMs.
But when kids returned from winter break Monday, their hearts were broken. Someone had stolen three computers, including one of the new ones.
The burglars also made off with a monitor and a portable radio, a total value of $6,500.
The loss - reflective of the soaring theft and vandalism problem at Los Angeles schools - has provided a tough lesson on persevering despite limited resources and crime, parents say.
``We're just really hurt that they're stealing from our kids, that this kind of thing is going on,'' said Therese Rice, a member of the school's governance board. ``We want the community to know this is going on.''
To get the word out and their equipment replaced, Rice and a handful of parents are about to start all over again through a series of fund-raisers.
``We're absolutely shocked and disappointed,'' said Linda Brooks, who used to read from the ``Black Beauty'' compact disc off the computer stolen from her son's first-grade class.
``For some of the children the only computer training they were getting was through the school,'' she said.
The burglary has parents questioning security on campus. Since there were no signs of forced entry into the rooms, some surmise it was ``an inside job,'' and charge that too many people have access to the rooms.
Lt. Walter Nelson with the Los Angeles School Police Department said no one has been interrogated yet and that the investigation probably would begin this week.
This was not the school's first brush with theft. A color printer for one of the computers was stolen in the summer.
Theft and vandalism cost Los Angeles Unified School District campuses $6.3 million last school year. Between 1995 and 1996 school burglaries, vandalism and graffiti rose 26 percent.
Assistant chief Richard Page of the district's police department said computer theft can be prevented by covering windows that hold equipment and placing plates over locks to make them harder to ``pick'' open.
Parents and other school supporters may also consider starting Neighborhood Watches around campuses.
Unfortunately, even with all the precautions ``if someone wants it badly enough they will find a way to break in,'' Page said.
To cover the cost of new computers and locks to secure equipment to desks, the school's Parent Teacher Association is sponsoring a few fund-raisers.
On Saturday, Dr. Barbara Rosenbaum will offer stress management courses to parents at Calabash from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The school is located at 23055 Eugene St.
Baby-sitting will be available on site. Rosenbaum is a marriage and family therapist who has two children attending Calabash. The seminar will cost $15 per person and $25 per couple. All of the proceeds will go to the school.
On Jan. 27, Casa di Pizza in Canoga Park will donate up to 35 percent of all sales from 5 to 8 p.m. to the school. The restaurant is located at 7543 Fallbrook Ave.
Owner and manager Victor Avakiam, who has offered up his restaurant for school fund-raisers over the past seven years, said it is the least he can do to help. ``It's a way to help the schools to help out their departments and fund-raising ways,'' he said. ``It's helping both ways, we're both benefiting from fund-raisers.''
Parents and other members of the public who wish to help replace the computers can attend a schoolwide meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Like many parents, Lynette Moore, who was in charge of sorting coins during last year's ``penny drive,'' emphasized the need to address safety on campus.
``We're now at a point where we're not putting in another cent unless they can guarantee that they can secure what you put in them,'' Moore said.
Photo: (Color) Jack Moore, left, and Justin Brooks sit at an empty work station at Calabash Street School.
David Sprague/Daily News