United students get personal laptops

HANOVERTON- United Local is forging into the new technological age, introducing this school year a laptop program that will eventually see all high school students leaving behind textbooks and notepads for laptops.

The 1:1 Laptop program has put in the hands of all ninth-grade students a personal laptop equipped with e-textbooks for the five core subjects, according to high school Principal Bill Young. Each incoming class after this year will receive laptops that will be used throughout the students’ high school careers.

“We always try to put our kids in position to compete when they leave United,” Young said. “The kids today are digitally-oriented, digital natives; they were born into technology. To prepare our kids to be successful…today’s a computer based world where just about anything you do will be using a computer.”

The district has been working on the only sustainable such program in Columbiana County for a couple years now, Young said, with an eye toward online state assessments that will begin in 2014-2015. The need for greater classroom technology played a large role in the program, he added.

“We’ve known for a number of years that the state was going to online assessments,” he explained. “We need the students to be comfortable with online testing. And it becomes a question of having enough computers; it’s the logistics of it.”

The laptops are installed with Internet-based text books for math, science, language arts and social studies that include capabilities to highlight, take notes and incorporate audio and video, offering a large supplement to the students’ education at their fingertips.

It is a more engaging classroom, essentially.

“Students are tech oriented, so this brings up the excitement level (in a subject), motivates their learning,” said ninth-grade science teacher Shawn Hicklin. “I’m able to use my website and e-mail my lecture notes, get the info out there to make a more efficient classroom.”

Algebra teacher Ken Beaumariage said his classes use the laptops everyday, assisting him in tracking where the students are at in their lessons. He uses a program in which the students input their work and he can view immediately on his own computer, versus the paper and pen method.

“I can see what they are doing right or wrong, help them with problems right away,” he said.

How have the students responded?

“I love the laptops,” freshman Madison Smith said. “They keep us in touch with the teachers and it’s much easier than carrying around most books. There’s websites that explain [subjects] and provide help.”

“They’re really good because they have access to text books and you don’t have to worry about carrying them,” said freshman Bryan Smearsoll. “They help in learning (because) you have access to notes, you can look stuff up, find information.”

Young said students will turn in their laptops at the end of each year for maintenance and preparation for the following year. This year the district has purchased 10 percent more than needed so that when a laptop needs fixed for whatever reason, the student will receive a temporary replacement, ensuring that no one will be without their machine.

Students are schooled in how to care for and maintain their laptops so as to enhance their efficiency, Young said. The firewall and virus protection of the school’s system are installed on them so that students can only use their laptops for educational purposes, he added.

In addition to the laptop program’s educational benefits, its cost efficiency was also a big reason the district pursued it, according to Young, who said the district spends approximately $100,000 each year in textbooks, as well as an unspecified amount to repair classroom computers.

“It’s looking at how we use our money to make (the program) happen,” he said.

Young said there is no decision yet what the district will do with the laptops after their four years.