Board Supports Laptops Program Expansion

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Thursday May 24, 2012

After hearing enthusiastic descriptions from South Burlington educators and administrators, the School Board endorsed the One-To-One Initiative. School Directors formally gave the program a thumbs’ up during their May 15 meeting.

The program puts laptop computers into seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students’ hands for the school day and youth are also allowed to bring the devices home to work on academic assignments. Currently, there are 505 devices in South Burlington schools, and the District would like to add another 415 for a total of 920 machines.

According to South Burlington School Business Manager John Stewart, the lease payment for the computers totals $118,302. Once the program is expanded, an additional cost of $100,000 would be levied for a total price tag of $218,302.

During the Board’s May 1 meeting, dozens of teachers in the District explained to  School Directors how the program has revitalized education in individual classrooms. Slides, depicting teachers interacting with students and youth explaining how the computers opened up a new dimension when working on projects. Additionally, examples of work the students successfully completed were also part of the demonstration.

The Board also heard enthusiastic remarks from teachers about how using the devices altered how they perform their jobs.

While the Board appeared pleased with the renewed educational enthusiasm, Directors also expressed concerns about distractions the laptops might pose during instructional time and also the ability of some youth to attempt to visit questionable web sites. As the discussion continued, filters and the role parents play in monitoring their child’s computer use were also introduced into the discussion.

The Board initially didn’t feel ready to make a decision about whether to endorse the program for another academic year, but opted to hold a special meeting May 10 at FH Tuttle Middle School. During the hearing, a dialogue about how to involve parents in taking responsibility for having the devices in their homes and for monitoring the usage of the laptop was planned.

Traditionally, schools that use computers ins school put some type of Firewall in place to prevent students from accessing social media sites, such as Facebook during the school day. Superintendent David Young invited Board members to submit questions about the program ahead of the meeting so Directors could have concerns addressed in a timely manner. He also added that the District is “mindful” of how the devices are utilized.

Among the safeguards that will be implemented on school-issued laptops are a set of filters. Board Chairman Richard Cassidy noted that he’s excited the program will continue and strengthen. “I’m very pleased that the Initiative is moving forward. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but after listening to the excitement from the teachers and seeing the projects produced, it’s really important to have the children get the education they need to have.”

Cassidy said some parents did approach him with concerns about the use of laptops in school. The District hopes to offer a workshop for families on computer use. He also was intrigued by the change in teaching style the devices wrought. Traditionally, teachers lecture from the front of the room, but with the arrival of the computers, teachers can be more mobile, frequently moving from student to student.

During the three School Board meetings in which the laptop initiatives were discussed, Board member Martin LaLonde also expressed concerns about some aspects of the program. He wondered about the use of strict filters and also worried about the distractions the machines might pose.

Calling the devices an “important tool” in students’ education, LaLonde also applauded the implementation of filters and hopes distractions will be minimal. He remains “cautious but supportive” of the program. “I  don’t want South Burlington kids to graduate and then use a laptop for the first time in college,” he said.

SOURCE: Gail Callahan, Correspondent