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Do Not Fold, Spindle

or Mutilate 

 

BY SCOTT LaFEE

The thought of tendering shiny, new laptop computers to the tender mercies of middle school and high school students is more than a little discomforting to more than one administrator. After all, the machines can cost upward of $1,000 each, and teenagers are hardly paragons of responsibility and prudent care.

On the other hand, the whole point of 1-to-1 laptop initiatives is to put the power of the digital revolution in the hands of students 24/7. The trick is to find the optimum way to do that so students thrive and machines survive.

The problem can be tackled in different ways. Leasing is one popular option. The up-front costs are usually less, and leasing means a district isn’t purchasing equipment that, like a new car, is almost immediately out-of-style and out-of-date.

Some school districts do purchase their computers and then give students a chance to buy them at a discount after a period of time. A high school senior can buy the laptop he or she has been using for four years to take along to college.

Fears Unwarranted
Contrary to common fears, equipment damage and loss in 1-to-1 programs appear to be minimal. Almost universally, districts require a fee (usually around $50) that each student pays to help cover ordinary wear and tear.

Larry Vick, superintendent of the 4,200-student Owensboro, Ky., Public Schools admits he initially harbored those fears. But few problems have arisen. Parents and students must attend a 90-minute tutorial on maintaining and using the laptops, where discussions cover cyberbullying.

“The computer isn’t the problem. It’s the person,” Vick says. “You have to set rules and appropriate punishments. When there’s a problem, we don’t threaten to take away the technology. We want students to think of their laptops as essential tools in their education. Instead, we discipline the behavior. And parents pay for any excessive damage or loss.”

The repeated messages of responsibility and accountability are heard.

“Students don’t know where their textbooks are, but they always know where their laptop is,” the superintendent adds. “These machines have opened up new worlds to them. You can see it in the looks on some of their faces. They’ve never even had a computer at home. You hand them one, and it’s better than Christmas.”

 

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