Whale Branch High students to get laptops, digital books

April 26, 2010 

  • Access digital textbooks • Access language-learning, test preparation and other instructional software • Run Microsoft Office applications • Continue class discussions through a multimedia blog • Communicate electronically with teachers • Turn in assignments electronically

Instead of lugging heavy books through the halls, students attending Whale Branch Early College High School this fall will carry portable computers equipped with digital textbooks.

Each of the about 400 students enrolled in the school will receive a Hewlett-Packard 5102 Mini Note to use during class and at home.

The district will pay for the computers, which cost about $800 each. That price includes the computer, a carrying case, an extended 10-hour battery, a four-year warranty with accident damage protection, theft protection technology and software that prevents unwanted downloads or changes to the computer.

The technology program at the school will be supported by federal money earmarked for schools with high poverty rates, said superintendent Valerie Truesdale.

The computers are a cross between a low-cost netbook and traditional laptop, said Jim Finger, the district's instructional technology services officer.

Individual computers will contribute to the college atmosphere the district is creating at the school, said Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief. The school, opening in Seabrook this fall, will house an "early college" magnet program that compresses the time it takes students to earn a high school diploma and complete the first two years of college.

Alford said any student who is serious about post-secondary study must be technologically proficient, and part of the school district's job is to teach those skills.

"In 2010, you don't have to be a technological genius, but you definitely have to be technologically literate," he said. "It's an opportunity for us to help students establish a good foundation of using technology to enhance instruction."

Finger presented details of the initiative to members of the Beaufort County Board of Education at their workshop Friday. According to his report, the computers will:

• Create a learning environment that gives students "anytime, anywhere" access to digital resources.

• Increase interest in academics for students in a high-poverty area of the county that has traditionally underachieved.

• Help improve the graduation rate and student achievement because students will be more engaged in their work.

In some cases, students will use the computers and digital textbooks in place of paper textbooks. Alford said the district's goal is to minimize the use of paper textbooks at the school.

Some books, however, have been purchased and will move with students from Battery Creek High School. The school won't completely move away from paper books until all of the books students use are available in a digital form, he said.

Finger said the initiative will be much different from the laptop program the school district began in the 1990s. Then, the district helped parents of middle-school students buy laptop computers, with the goal of making sure every student had access to technology at home. The project ended after participation dwindled and several participants did not repay loans taken out to buy the laptops.

Finger said that initiative lacked adequate training, something research has shown is essential to a successful program. During the past decade, more research has been conducted on schools that provide computers to students, he said.

The district has scheduled 10 days in August to train teachers and will provide extensive training for students, he said. Mandatory meetings for parents and students will be held before the computers are issued, to review acceptable uses of the laptops, he said.

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