Anniston High laptops

Anniston High School counselor Brenda Hill stacks up laptop computers Tuesday from a shipment of 512 Google Chromebooks for distribution to students and staff. (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Tyeisha Griffin, a 15-year-old sophomore, shot photos at Anniston High School on Tuesday, documenting for the school yearbook what felt like an historic day.

“I’ve been at Anniston all my life, and we’ve never had anything like this,” Griffin said, after photographing her principal holding a brand-new notebook computer. “I’m just happy.”

That happiness, coupled with anticipation, was shared by many at Anniston High on Tuesday, as school officials unpacked a shipment of 512 of the computers, along with black-and-red bags emblazoned with the school’s logo and Bulldog mascot. School officials plan to distribute the computers to every student and teacher, and hope they will change the way learning takes place.

“I think it’s huge for our students,” said the principal, Charles Gregory. “We’re extremely excited about the possibilities, and the possibilities are immense.”

Gregory, teachers and students all talked of the computers as a way to match the programs available to students in many other school systems, where laptop or tablet computers are issued to students who take them home regularly to complete assignments and conduct research on their own.

History teacher Brittany Watters said she believed the computers were in part a way “to bring us up to speed with the times.”

The program is the result of months of discussions among school leaders, city officials and Anniston attorney Donald Stewart. Stewart persuaded a judge last year to allow him to spend money in a legal settlement to outfit Anniston’s schools with faster, wireless internet infrastructure to handle connections from hundreds of computers at a time. The money, $1.4 million, was left over from the 2003 settlement over contamination from Monsanto’s production of PCBs in Anniston, and also helped fund similar programs at Calhoun County-district schools in Saks and Wellborn. The city of Anniston committed $340,000 to Anniston’s school district in this year’s budget, a portion of which is being used to buy the computers at Anniston High, for $170 each.

Darren Douthitt, superintendent of Anniston’s schools, says the district wants to extend the program to all of its schools eventually, though he doesn’t yet know when that will happen or how it’ll be paid for.

“I would like to get the devices all the way down to pre-K as quickly as we can,” Douthitt said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They may be more valuable to us on the elementary level. That’s where a foundation for learning is built.”

In a floor at Anniston High on Tuesday, a pile of plastic bags and packing foam grew as teachers unpacked the boxes. Atop a table, rows of sleek, gray computers lengthened as the morning wore on. Teachers were already planning how to use the new devices.

“This is going to facilitate their ability to access assignments and information around the clock,” Gregory said.

Watters said she envisioned the machines allowing more of her U.S. history students to try things like a group of them did a few years ago, using digital technology to make documentary films about the civil rights era in Anniston.

“It will allow us to reach the students,” she said, “to engage them more.”

Gregory and Douthitt both spoke about the program’s potential to help “bridge the gap,” a reference to the achievement gap, often cited by educators and researchers, between students in affluent communities and those with high levels of poverty.

“If our students are going to compete on a level playing field with other students,” Gregory said, “they are going to need the resources that other students have available to them.”

On Tuesday night, the school planned to hold its first session for students and their parents to sign agreements regarding the use of the computers, and to pay required fees. The school district is charging $17.50 per student this year, $35 for families with more than one child in school, for students to use the devices. The money will help pay for a repair program, Gregory said. For families who might struggle to pay that amount, he said, donors have pledged to provide help. The fees will double next year when the computers are available for a full year of use, he said.

Two more sessions for parents are planned, Thursday and Friday, from 4-5 p.m. at the high school. Students will then begin receiving computers on Monday.


Managing Editor Ben Cunningham: 256-235-3541. On Twitter @Cunningham_Star.

Managing Editor of The Anniston Star