GREENFIELD — By August, about 700 students from Greenfield Central Junior High School will have laptops to call their own.
The initiative to supply students with take-home computers is not new. About 1,500 Greenfield-Central High School students received MacBook Air laptops last August, and districts across the county have adopted similar programs in recent years.
But the decision to fast-track the junior high phase of the program — a year ahead of the timeline district officials originally proposed — leaves some staff members conflicted. While most are excited about the addition and the expanded teaching options, some are intimidated by the preparation and complexity the accelerated rollout will bring.
Paying for 750 MacBook Airs won’t be cheap. The laptops retail for $800 apiece. But district officials say parents won’t have to pay anything extra out of pocket to cover the cost. The district is paying for the computers through a four-year lease with Apple, spending approximately $200 a year for each computer before reselling them and upgrading to a newer model, officials say.
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In all, the move will cost the district about $600,000 over four years. The district will recoup those costs through textbook rental fees, which are expected to remain close to the $150 range families have paid in recent years for traditional textbooks, said Harold Olin, Greenfield-Central superintendent.
Olin said that, after crunching the numbers and coming to the realization the district could move to the next stage of its digital plan sooner than originally planned, he saw no need to wait.
“It’s always been our goal to do this as quickly as we could,” Olin said. “The money’s there, and the infrastructure is in place, and the staff is ready. We figured, why wait if we don’t need to?”
The decision also will bridge a technology gap for sixth-grade students coming to the junior high from the corporation’s two intermediate schools, which received devices in August for students to use, Olin added. Those students have regularly used laptops in their language arts courses, and it would have been counterproductive for them to go two years — the junior high houses seventh and eighth grades — without devices after they’ve become accustomed to everyday practice, he said.
Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield-Central school board, said that consideration was crucial in her decision to support fast-tracking program, which was approved by the board this week.
“Our students are so tech-savvy,” she said. “We want everything to be aligned for them, so they don’t lose any momentum and can continue exploring their interests.”
But the acceleration of plans leaves some families uncertain if they’ll be able to afford an optional insurance policy to cover major repairs or replacement for accidental damage. That policy costs $60 annually per device, and repairs are subject to a $50 deductible.
That makes Abigail Poe of Greenfield uneasy. Her three children will all receive devices in the fall, and she’s concerned about unexpected costs.
“I’m not sure that in junior high, you’re mature enough to have such a nice device to bring back and forth to school,” she said. “My kids aren’t careless, but that would be very expensive to repair.”
She’s also worried about paying for Internet service at home to be sure her children can keep up with Web-based homework, she said. Though students can download assignments while they’re at school to avoid connecting to the Internet later, it creates an obstacle if they forget and then can’t connect to Wi-Fi from home.
“That’s an extra bill that we’ll need to pay,” Poe said.
Administrators say they don’t plan to plunge into a purely digital curriculum. The shift will be gradual, allowing teachers to use the technology intermittently throughout the school year, said Dan Jack, Greenfield Central Junior High School principal.
Still, Jack said there will likely be some initial growing pains. By first day of school in August, teachers are expected to have a class website set up with a course calendar, assignments and announcements.
Dee Waymire, a family and consumer sciences teacher at the junior high, said the transition will require teachers to take some time before the school year starts to familiarize themselves with the computers.
“The work is going to be on the front end, getting everything uploaded to the site,” she said.
But once that work is completed, it should pay dividends, sparing teachers time and frustration, she said.
Even in her classroom, where students regularly participate in hands-on activities like baking cookies, the technology will offer an advantage, she said.
“Researching recipes online, looking up nutrition facts, finding videos that show them proper slicing techniques — the possibilities are practically endless,” she said.
Waymire said she’s most looking forward to the time the new devices will spare her while grading. Some of the software she plans to use will automatically grade certain quizzes, which will save her hours when she grades on the weekends, she said.
Knowing the digital initiative was coming, all teachers at the junior high have received training on how best to integrate the technology into instruction, Jack said. Naturally, the laptops will open more doors to educators in specific subject areas, like English and social studies, where students can research paper topics and keep up on current events, he said.
Jack acknowledges the learning curve will be steeper for some teachers. But to ease that transition, the district will continue offering opportunities for teachers to receive help with the technology, he said.
All Hancock County schools have opted for some sort of digital learning program. Here’s where the initiatives stand:
Eastern Hancock: Laptops for students in Grades 6-12
Greenfield-Central: Laptops for students in Grades 9-12
Mt. Vernon: Laptops for students in Grades 6-12; iPads for students in Grades K-5
Southern Hancock: Laptops for students in Srades 7-12; iPads for students in Grades K-6