WHITE BEAR LAKE — All eighth-graders at Central and Sunrise Park middle schools are getting their own Chromebooks next year. By 2019, every White Bear secondary student likely will have a school-issued laptop.
District 624 officials announced the plan, funded by the capital projects levy, last week. In coming years, the district also intends to purchase more digital devices for elementary classes, according to district Director of Technology Mark Garrison.
Sunrise eighth-graders will be the first to receive Chromebooks (relatively inexpensive, limited-capability laptops) early next fall. The Central rollout will happen once all is running smoothly at Sunrise, likely sometime between November and January, Garrison said.
The plan is to add seventh and ninth grade in 2015-16, sixth and 10th grade in 2016-17 and the upper high school grades thereafter, although the technology director advised that could change. What is certain is the rollout will progress in a manner in which students wouldn’t have a device one year and not the next.
Students will be allowed to take their Chromebooks home, where district rules on acceptable use will apply. Garrison said he’s excited for the opportunities the devices will bring for students to connect online from home and “collaborate outside of the school day.” The district has agreements with three Internet providers to offer low-income families of students Internet access for $10 per month. Accommodations will be made for students who don’t have home Internet access.
Training to help eighth-grade teachers best integrate the devices into their classes has already begun and will continue through the summer. Classes will continue to use textbooks and/or other learning materials, Garrison said.
Chromebooks cost approximately $300 each and with approximately 650 eighth-graders, the price tag for next year is approximately $195,000. The devices will be funded with tax proceeds of the capital projects levy that voters renewed and increased last November.
Administrators still are deciding some program details, such as what happens if a student damages his or her device. The district will send communications with more information to families of current seventh-graders in coming weeks.
The tentative plan is to retire and replace each Chromebook after three years. The district isn’t committed to Chromebooks; a different device might be chosen in the future if a better option comes along, the technology director said.
The district also plans to purchase additional mobile sets of computers for the elementary schools in coming years. The goal is to have at least one class-sized set of Chromebooks for each third, fourth and fifth grade to share at each school, Garrison said. Many younger grades also are getting tablet computers to share.