Three local school districts are giving some combination of laptops and tablet devices to each student in certain grades, and at least one other school system is just beginning to develop plans to do the same.
The aim, administrators say, is to ensure students are familiar with technology that’s increasingly required in today’s workplaces, and to use that technology in classrooms in ways that expand learning and boost student engagement.
Oxford City Schools
The Oxford City School system will begin this week to send new MacBook Air laptops home with the approximately 1,275 students in grades nine through 12. Students in grades seven and eight will use laptops while at school.
In all, the district has about 3,000 laptops. In May, the school board agreed to buy 2,000 new MacBook Air laptops. The technology will cost the district about $700,000 annually for four years.
Khristie Goodwin, coordinator of curriculum and special education for Oxford City Schools, explained that it’s one thing to buy several thousand laptops, and it’s another to train the hundreds of teachers and staff on how to best use them for instruction.
“That has been an enormous undertaking,” Goodwin said. “For every dollar spent (on technology) we try to spend three dollars on professional development and support.”
Teachers began training on the laptops in 2011 and were asked to provide input on how best to use the laptops during instruction.
And the teachers at Oxford schools are excited about the program and what it could mean for the students, Goodwin said, “Because they’ve been a partner in the planning of this.”
Amy Graham teaches math at Oxford, and in addition to using graphing software with the laptops, Graham engages her students with math-based computer applications and other technology that lets her use an electronic blackboard.
“The kids get to go up and use the calculator on the board, and then they can go to a place online that links an activity to that particular concept. They love it,” Graham said.
“It’s the most engaged I’ve ever seen kids, when it comes to math. Usually with math, the kids walk in the door with their finger on the panic button, saying ‘I can’t do this.’ This gives them the opportunity to maybe hold off on that button. Let me see what I can do,” Graham said.
Jacksonville City Schools
Jacksonville students will get training in the use of iPads during a series of orientation sessions in the high school cafeteria this week and next.
The Jacksonville City School System is offering the sessions to introduce parents and students to its new technology initiative, through which officials plan to issue an iPad to each student in grades four through 12. During the orientation sessions, which will be held by grade level and began Monday, students will receive their iPads and, together with their parents, they will learn how to use and care for them.
“We want to tell both of them at the same time,” said Anthony Kingston, director of technology.
The school board in May agreed to buy 1,200 iPads, in addition to 96 MacBook laptops and 200 iPad Mini tablets, from Apple, Inc. for $344,000 each year for three years.
Students and parents will also learn about some of the security measures that will be in place to keep people from misusing the tablet computers.
Kingston said the school system has installed filters that will reach each device and block some popular apps, including Facebook, Pandora, Twitter and Snapchat. He added that while students in the Jacksonville system may be disappointed to learn that some of their favorite apps won’t be accessible, the restrictions are in place for student safety.
“We want them to have the device but we want them to use it responsibly,” Kingston said.
Piedmont City Schools
The Piedmont City School system is headed into the fourth year of the district’s technology initiative, which puts laptops in the hands of every student in grades four through 12. Those students keep their laptops with them at the end of the school day.
The school board in March agreed to buy 750 MacBook Air laptops, at a cost of $756,922. The new laptops replace older MacBooks, which are being sold by the district.
Matt Akin, superintendent of Piedmont City Schools, said the new laptops will be distributed a week prior to the first day of school, Aug. 19, but the exact day and time has yet to be set.
Among the local school systems with similar technology programs, Piedmont school’s has been in place the longest, and is increasingly showing administrators that investing in the technology was the right move, explained Akin.
“The advantage has been clear from day one, but it becomes more and more clear each year that the technology tools we put into the hands of students, and in the hands of teachers, allows you to personalize learning,” Akin said.
Teaching kids exactly what they need to know and addressing areas they need help in is something the technology does well, Akin explained.
Akin said the technology “also has the ability to teach 21st century skills; collaboration and opportunities for creativity, critical thinking. All of those things are truly enhanced by having devices in the hands of every kid.”
Anniston City Schools
On Monday, the Public Education Foundation of Anniston presented a $100,000 check to Anniston High School for the purchase of new equipment for career and technology programs, including business and welding.
The Board of Education has committed $72,000 in matching funds to purchase the career tech equipment. In addition, PEFA, the Board of Education, and the city of Anniston have partnered to place $368,000 worth of 21st century classroom technology in the schools. That technology will include smart boards and keypad assessment systems, which are remote controls given to students that give teachers instant access to testing data.
PEFA’s funds were initially donated by the Stewart Family Foundation, which has committed $400,000 to the two initiatives. The school district is also awaiting word on federal grants to upgrade its technological infrastructure such as added Internet bandwidth and server capacity to handle more equipment in the schools.
Donald Stewart and Bruce Jameson, vice chairman of PEFA’s board, said they hope the success of the partnerships they have formed will lead to new technology initiatives, including the potential for putting a device in the hands of individual students.
“We now have the format and a workable model,” Jameson said.
Jameson said he hopes that the more people see what they are accomplishing together, the more partnerships they can build for these initiatives throughout the community.
“It’s for the benefit of all Anniston and Calhoun County,” he said, “so everyone should try to participate.”
Anniston City Schools superintendent Joan Frazier said there is no timeline yet for moving forward with a device initiative.
“None of the entities want to let grass grow under our feet, but the desire to complete the career tech and the 21st century is first and foremost,” she said, adding that after those are in place, they will look at purchasing devices for students.
Calhoun County Schools
Calhoun County Schools began a pilot program at several schools in 2012 called “Bring Your Own Device,” which allowed students to bring their own laptops, tablets and smart phones to class.
Attempts to reach system administrators late Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.
That program will be expanded this year to include Pleasant Valley High, Weaver High, Wellborn High, Saks High, Alexandria High, Saks Middle, Wellborn Elementary, Ohatchee Elementary, Pleasant Valley Elementary, Alexandria Elementary, Ohatchee High, White Plains High, White Plains Middle, Weaver Elementary and Saks Elementary.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star. Oxford City Schools laptop handouts will take place at the Oxford High School sports arena at:
Thur., Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. for seniors with last names A-K, and 6:30 p.m. for seniors with last names L-Z.
Mon., Aug. 12 at 4 p.m. for juniors with last names A-K, and 6:30 for juniors with last names L-Z.
Tue., Aug. 13 at 4 p.m. for sophomores with last names A-K, and 6:30 for Sophomores last names L-Z.
Thurs., Aug. 15 at 2:30 p.m. for freshmen with last names A-H, 4:30 p.m. for freshmen with last names I-P and 6:30 p.m. for freshmen with last names Q-Z.
Jacksonville City Schools iPad orientations will take place at 4 p.m. at the Jacksonville High School cafeteria on:
11th grade – Tue., July 30.
10th grade – Wed. July 31.
9th grade – Thur., Aug. 1.
8th grade – Mon., Aug. 5.
7th grade – Tue., Aug. 6.
Laptop hand out dates for Piedmont City Schools will be announced.