East Grand Schools roll out one-to-one laptops to students
Sky-Hi News Contributor
Students in an eighth-grade English class at East Grand Middle School are diligently reading and responding to works of literature.
But two tools are markedly absent from their desks: paper and pens.
Students read from and type their responses into their new school-issued Chromebook laptop computers. Completed assignments are electronically submitted to their teacher, Lynn Bellatty, who reads, grades, and provides feedback — all without printing one piece of paper.
“In my time in education this is one of the most exciting things I have been a part of,” said East Grand Middle School (EGMS) Principal Jenny Rothboeck. “There aren’t very many schools in the state giving Chromebooks to each student.”
East Grand School District’s Chromebook rollout began early this year. Now the over 300 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders have received their personal devices, which the majority take home each night to complete assignments.
“It was like Christmas morning. They were so excited,” Rothboeck said of the students’ reaction.
Middle Park High School students will receive their Chromebooks in phase II of the project when they start school next fall.
Google laptops were selected over Apple iPads or other technologies because of cost ($290 total for the Chromebooks plus maintenance compared to $384 for the iPad equivalent), but also because of Google’s cloud computing system and suite of educational apps.
“Google has really stayed up on the education portion of their company. While iPads were really the rage a few years ago, Google has continued to skyrocket with what they have for schools. Google has this great program — apps for education — that are all appropriate, high quality, and most are free,” said Rothboeck.
Teachers at EGMS are using Chromebooks in subjects beyond traditional English and math.
For a health unit, students picked their favorite fast-food meal and researched the nutritional information. They discussed if they would still eat that meal or if they would choose a healthier option.
A science teacher had half his students create a unit quiz that the others took, putting into practice that adage that in order to teach, you have to first learn and comprehend.
Sixth grade social studies teacher Scotty Hicks is using the Chromebooks for his economics curriculum. The new laptops remove a barrier to resources he needs.
“The accessibility to technology wasn’t consistent before. It would be tough; you almost had to make your plans around the availability of a computer lab. That’s not the case anymore,” he said.
Sixth-grader Dani Foltz of Fraser was thrilled to get her new Chromebook. But the excitement waned as she used it for her classes.
“We were even using it in gym and it just seemed like unnecessary use,” she said.
Foltz gave credit to her English teacher for using the Chromebook in a way that makes sense.
“We just use it to look up an author or do a worksheet,” she said.
The Chromebooks are designed to work offline, but Foltz, who didn’t have home internet service, found that she was spending a lot of time at her neighbor’s house, borrowing his internet to get her homework done.
Now the school district, in collaboration with Comcast, is offering an internet essentials package that costs $10 per month for eligible families. It will benefit Foltz, her mom, and her two younger sisters.
“The cost is really affordable,” said Dani’s mom, Jessie Foltz. “The program is still in the young stage, but once everything is ironed out it will be a really educational tool.”
Eighth-grader James Whaley feels like the Chromebooks speed up his ability to complete assignments. He and his classmates no longer need to venture to the school library or computer lab to do research.
“Instead of sharing a book we use an online website. It helps us learn faster; we don’t have to spend the time going everywhere to get the information,” he said.
Rothboeck stresses that the technology is a tool to augment the learning, not replace other teaching methods.
“It [the technology] is definitely enhancing what we were already doing but it’s not replacing the good things we were already doing. I think it’s really important for kids to still learn social skills, how to collaborate, how to work in a group, and how to solve problems together. I think it’s still important for them to know how to write, and to know what a book is and use a table of contents and an index and all of those things.”
The effort to get a portable computer or tablet into each student’s hand has been under way since East Grand proposed a special Technology Mill Levy in 2013. It called for a tax increase of $400,000 per year for three years.
Voters did not pass the levy, but that did not deter the project for long.
Working with the Grand Foundation as a their nonprofit fiscal sponsor, East Grand School District created a budget outside of their state-apportioned funds. At the center is a $250,000 challenge grant from the Sprout Fund, a Grand Foundation fund that focuses on positive impacts for community youth.
According to Jody Mimmack, East Grand School District’s superintendant, $717,000 has been raised so far with another $525,000 in pending grants.
The Chromebooks are scheduled for replacement every three years. The district will cover normal wear-and-tear, but families can pay a $50 non-refundable damage deposit for extra coverage. According to Mimmack, 80 percent of middle school families have opted to pay.
Bellatty, who teaches both math and English, is seeing a cost-savings in her classroom. The online math books save about $80 per student over the paper equivalent and are much more interactive, with tutorials and videos that address a wider variety of learning styles.
East Grand School District has done a lot of things right. Teachers were heavily involved in planning for the rollout. The district created a Chromebook Boot Camp that parents take with their children.
The students are responsible for bringing the Chromebooks — fully charged — to school each day. But Bellatty sees students becoming more accountable in other ways, too.
“Students are emailing me directly — not their parents,” she said. “Students are taking more responsibility for their own work. They are taking the reins.”
The Chromebooks are filtered, but East Grand allows limited access to Facebook and other social media. The Los Angeles Unified Public School District was widely criticized after they botched and subsequently halted a 2013 iPad initiative. Students there quickly hacked around firewalls blocking their favorite sites.
But some East Grand students feel that the social media is a distraction. Foltz, a sixth-grader, is not allowed to have social media accounts beyond email, a decision she and her mom made together.
“I think it distracts from learning,” she said. “I have seen people who will go on Facebook during class for a quick five seconds. My classmates are tempted to go on there, even when they shouldn’t.”
This generation of digital natives may inherently know how to use the devices, but they still have a lot to learn, according to Missy Quinn, the technology teacher at EGMS.
“For them, a lot of this comes easy. But what I see as the technology teacher is the need to learn research skills, being able to wade through the numerous amounts of data that is out there to find correct data, to find good resources. They need some more guidance on that.”
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