A project three years in the making is set to launch this fall when every Patrick County High School student receives a Google Chromebook notebook computer. Students in grades 8 through 12 will be able to take their Chromebooks home for 24/7 online learning.
“During the past three years our leadership team’s perspective is we want to educate kids for jobs that don’t even exist, and give our students the best possible education we can give them,” said Patrick County Schools Superintendent William Sroufe.
“The way education is viewed now is that our students need to learn on a global perspective, and a device like a Chromebook puts students on a level playing field and allows them to reach beyond the boundaries of the classroom, beyond Patrick County, and beyond Virginia. It puts a whole new world in front of them,” Sroufe continued.
The Chromebook program costs $100,000 per year for the school division; parents will be charged approximately $20 per year for insurance. Sroufe said parents can elect to have students check the Chromebooks in and out each day. Students in income-based programs such as free lunch and free books will be eligible for discounted or waived insurance fees, he added.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students to be able to have a device. They’re able to reach out in real-time,” Sroufe said. “It’s a different way of learning. If [parents] are reluctant, step back and give it some time.
“We want people to realize technology is a tool. It doesn’t really matter what job you have anymore. When you go to the doctor’s office you get on a computer. You can make an appointment online. Mechanics order parts online,” he continued. “All employment has to deal with technology as a tool, and we want to weave that into education so we can make our students competitive.”
Patrick County High School Principal Trey Cox agrees on the importance of technology in education, adding that the Chromebook program also eliminates factors such as whether families have are financially able to purchase smartphones and laptops.
“Kids who don’t have access to technology will have it now and that’s hugely important,” Cox said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids and teachers. From special needs students to students with multiple handicaps, every kid is getting a Chromebook.”
Cox added that up to 85 percent of county students have Internet service at home, but those who do not will be able to complete assignments offline and reconnect at school. Sroufe said many students do that now; and school officials continue to search for community hotspots for students who need a connection.
This past Thursday and Friday, students in two Patrick County High School classes received Chromebooks as part of a pilot program that runs through the end of this school year. The pilot program gives school officials time to work through any technological kinks before the fall rollout.
Carly McKenzie, a 10th-grader who received a Chromebook Thursday as part of teacher Jeannie Stanley’s geometry class, said she feels great about the program. “I like to type a lot better than write. I feel privileged, and we use computers anyway. We don’t do much on paper.”
McKenzie said Stanley’s geometry class already incorporates many online games and quizzes, which are “a lot of fun,” and having a Chromebook will make it easier.
The other class to participate in the pilot program is Martha Chaney’s English class. Chaney said one example of how she plans to supplement classroom learning with the Chromebook involves Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
Students will participate in a Google Classroom activity in which they’ll apply the book’s theme of citizenship to real-life situations, Chaney explained. “We’ll have different kinds of experiences using technology in relation to this book.”
It’s weaving in that technology that Sroufe says is most valuable. “Chromebooks do not replace good teachers. Nothing will ever replace good teachers. What we want to show them is that technology will be in their lives and possibly part of their jobs for the rest of their lives. It will grow, it will change, it will evolve – and that’s what we want we want: for our teachers to take technology and utilize it in the classroom.”
Regarding the possibility that students could access inappropriate material, Sroufe said that school officials will continue to enforce the agreements already in place for on-campus computers. The Chromebooks’ history will be set so that students cannot erase it, he added.
“Part of that is parent responsibility for what children go to,” Sroufe added. “We’re still working through a couple of issues on filtering, and working on the history part so if they go to something they should not go to, it will store it.
“If parents have questions, we can go through and check that device,” he continued. “It’s not much different than what happens now in lot of homes where parents are taking the responsibility to make sure their children are looking at age-appropriate things.
“We have to stay ahead of them in our own filtering and sometimes you have to let go. Some divisions have said ‘no’ to Facebook and Twitter. That’s not my perspective,” Sroufe said. “We use those in positive manners. Our goal is to stop saying ‘no, no, no,’ and instead to teach them to use them in a positive way.”