Thanks to a $327,405 grant from the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation, Great Bend USD 428 is preparing to buy hundreds of Chromebooks and iPad tablets in 2016. The district’s technology director, Ryan Axman, said the grant has advanced the timetable for the technology program by three to four years.
The Chromebooks are laptop computers that will be assigned to students at Great Bend Middle School and Great Bend High School. Each GBMS student will be assigned a computer that will stay in the building; each GBHS student will be assigned a computer that he or she is expected to take home at night, use for homework and charge up for the next school day.
The district will also buy Chromebook carts to be shared by teachers in grades 3-6, and iPad carts that teachers in grades K-2 will share.
The choice of iPads for younger students came from listening to teachers. It is hard for the children to type in an email address, but the iPads won’t even have a keypad.
John Popp, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and human resources, adds that by third grade students start touching the keyboard.
Middle school students could have devices in their hands in the coming months so the district can test its network. They won’t keep the devices for the summer, but the district will resolve any issues over the summer. The big rollout will be in the 2016 fall semester.
A fully equipped laptop computer costs $650, compared to $250 for a device such as a Chromebook or iPad, Axman said. Kids can’t download programs to them, so the devices don’t get viruses. And if a device is damaged, repairs can be done in-house. It costs about $50 and takes 10 minutes to replace a screen, Axman said.
Some of the work has already been done. “We’ve been putting in wireless access in classrooms,” Axman said. This was paid for in part by federal eRate funds schools receive for communication technology. The district also increased its Internet bandwidth from 75 MHz to 500 MHz for the same price. “We use 150-200 (MHz) now,” Axman said, adding he expects use will “creep up more” when all of the students have computers.
The high school and middle school will still have computer labs, but the district won’t be replacing as many laptop computers in the future, which will save $60,000 a year. However, the district will buy 900 Chromebooks. Replacing them on a three-year rotation will cost $90,000 a year.
Internet filter and policies
Axman said the district will need to spend $5,000 for an Internet filter. This will block what students can see on their Chromebooks, even when they take them home.
The filters will also make a take-home Chromebook useless away from the school or an approved site, Assistant Superintendent Kris Thexton said. “If you steal it, it’s useless.”
Administrators noted that in other districts that are already sending high school students home with computers, theft of the devices isn’t an issue. There are more problems with students losing or swiping power cords.
Superintendent Brad Reed said the district will need to adjust its curriculum for new technology. USD 428 already has technology coaches in each building who help teachers find ways to incorporate technology into their lessons. Once students are issued their own computers, there will also need to be new policies. Those will be presented to the school board in the spring.
Meanwhile, he voiced support for the plan.
“These (devices) are really a good option and a good buy for the district,” Reed said.
Popp said most children already have Internet access at home, but about 20 percent don’t have wireless (wi-fi) access.
However, he said it doesn’t appear to pose a problem. “There’s tons of places those kids know how to get online.”
Rather than excluding the most economically disadvantaged students, he said that putting a computer in every student’s hands will actually create a “level playing ground.”