Daily Reporter Staff Writer
GREENFIELD — As summer break winds down, students and parents across the county line the halls of local schools to sign up for classes, signing the same forms and greeting the same familiar faces they have for years.
But those who attended registration at Greenfield-Central High School this week encountered something new.
Story continues below gallery
By the end of the day Wednesday, 1,500 high school students had received new MacBook Air laptops as the district rolled out its take-home computer program. Administrators said the devices will give students access to an array of digital educational opportunities and enhance learning in the classroom while leveling the playing field for students who didn’t have access to computers at home.
The MacBooks were passed out during registration, allowing students and parents to sit down and get familiar with the machines, then pass any questions or concerns along to technology support staff.
Eventually, all Greenfield-Central students will have take-home devices. Introducing the laptops at the high school is the first phase of a project administrators said will take a few years to fully implement.
So far, the first step has been met with enthusiasm. Students were elated to get their hands on the laptops during the first day of registration Monday. Some remarked the computers will spare them from hauling heavy books through the halls, instead offering all they need in a sleek, lightweight device used to read digital course materials and access online resources.
“It’s more convenient all around, so I like it,” said Benjamin Adams, an incoming junior. “I think it’ll give an edge to learning because it makes the Internet so accessible, and it’s just a massive knowledge base.”
Incoming freshman Taylor Griffin, who admits she has a habit of losing track of class handouts, said having a laptop will simplify her routine.
“It’ll make it much harder to lose stuff, and I’ll be able to learn from home even if my notes are incomplete,” she said.
Parents were required to come with students to registration this week to sign a form taking responsibility for any damage to the laptops, such as cracked screens.
Heather Griffin, Taylor’s mother, said she was uneasy about the prospect of being responsible for such a high-end device.
“The cost is certainly concerning,” she said. “We don’t have a MacBook at home because they’re much more expensive than Windows computers, and now, I’m responsible for any damages.”
Students were required to log on to their computers before leaving registration to make sure they could access the programs. Technology support staff and administrators were on hand to answer any lingering questions from parents and students.
Christie Northcraft, technology support specialist, said Monday things were running smoothly.
“I haven’t seen many issues at all,” Northcraft said. “Most of them are used to using some kind of computer already, so they’re not having much trouble.”
Greenfield-Central technology director Greg Thompson, who’s made sure each laptop is fully functional and preloaded with browsers and programs, doesn’t foresee any major glitches with the roll-out during the first weeks of class.
The district took cues from other schools that have implemented similar programs when considering which devices to provide and how to prepare students, he said.
“We spent a good year-and-a-half visiting other schools with one-to-one programs and seeing what they’re doing and what works best for them,” Thompson said.
Students received padded cases to store their laptops in, and Thompson said the bags are substantial enough to withstand a drop.
He added that the laptops will have inappropriate sites blocked so students can’t access them at school or at home.
If any technical issues arise in the classroom when school starts Monday, Thompson said, students will be sent to a help desk, where the issue will be diagnosed.
The district has additional laptops available to loan to students if their machine requires an update or repair, Thompson said. Students can take a backup laptop back to class so they don’t miss instruction while their take-home laptop is being fixed.
“Then we’ll let the student know when their laptop is repaired, and they can come back down and swap it out,” he said.
If students have problems while working at home, they can call an Apple support line, Thompson said.
Christy Hilton, district assistant superintendent, said the laptops will increase collaboration by allowing students to download course materials that a teacher can post in online forum for each class.
And readily accessible Internet will allow teachers to network with professionals across the globe, potentially bringing experts into class discussions, she added.
“There are so many opportunities,” she said.
Ted Jacobs, who teaches English and theater, said he still has some trepidation about the program.
Any time you introduce new technology, there’s a learning curve, Jacobs noted, particularly for those — students and staff alike — who aren’t as comfortable with technology.
“It’s definitely a fun, energizing experience, but I won’t lie — I’m nervous,” he said.
Still, Jacobs said he sees a lot of potential for the program.
“When you have access to a new, diverse set of knowledge, you expand your horizons,” he said. “We’re uniquely situated right now, so we’ll be able to do that.”
Teachers received their MacBooks in February but still are undergoing training on how best to integrate the technology into lesson plans.
Ashley Arnold, who’s led several training sessions to familiarize teachers with the devices, said she realizes some teachers won’t be entirely comfortable using the technology at first.
“Some teachers are ready to jump right in, while there are others who want to take baby steps, and that’s OK,” said Arnold, technology integration specialist. “We want teachers to start using the devices in some manner, but we know in order to make this successful over the long term, we’ll need continued training for teachers and students. We want it to be a sustainable program.”