AROUND THE STATESome Manti High School graduates, well along in years now, remember when there were ink wells in student desks and a fountain pen was a prized Christmas gift.They remember when computing was a principal activity in their senior commercial class, and they realize how much has changed at the high school when they hear their grandchildren talk of spending extra hours in the school's computer lab.

The lab became operational last fall. It's equipped with 23 IBM computers and three printers. They're linked together in what William Thompson, the school's computer services coordinator, calls a LAN, which is an acronym for local area network. Over the network reigns a super computer on the teacher's desk.

"Access to computers at Manti High has become as essential to students as access to textbooks and microscopes," Thompson said.

He teaches five half-year computer studies classes. The half-year class is required for graduation. And in addition, he teaches an advanced full-year class. Students who complete that class can qualify for Snow College credit in computer science.

In addition to Thompson's basic and advanced computer science classes, business teacher Becky Kjar is now teaching a word processing class, and librarian Virginia Tolman is teaching desktop publishing to a class of 10 students who publish the newspaper.

The move into computer technology, Thompson said, is partly in response to the state Legislature's mandate that the students attain computer literacy.

But it's more than that, Thompson added. "It's coming to grips with the real world. Computers are everywhere, in business, in industry, on the farm. A kid's mother may be using a home computer to gain access to her recipe file. His dad is probably using a computer to gain access to his parts inventory."

Manti High School has not spent more than $60,000 on its computer installations. That includes the lab plus two in the library and one in the office. Most of the funds have come from educational technology money provided by the state.

"We plan within a few years to have a computer in every classroom as well as three or four mini-labs each equipped with several computers," Thompson said.

In addition to the computers and printers, the Manti High system includes software and information contained on permanent discs. For instance, that information can be as basic as the entire contents of a several-volume encyclopedia.

"The computer has several benefits for a teacher," according to Thompson. "It enables him to spend more time in instruction and giving help to individual students and less time preparing work sheets and keeping records.

"The computer benefits the student in various ways, too: in reviewing an assignment, in doing research, in studying maps and graphs, in undertaking remedial work, in functioning on his own.

"Basically, I suppose," Thompson said, "the major value of computer studies on the high school level is helping preparing students for entry into the computer age, the real world."

A music teacher by career choice (he still teaches two vocal groups), Thompson jumped into the computer world eight years ago. He used some of the money he'd saved from summer work to buy an inexpensive computer. For the ordinary person then, the computer was something of a novelty, like the first crystal radios 80 years ago, he said. He's since taken several advanced classes in computer science and is now a State Board of Education certified computer instructor.