Students to receive laptops

Published 10:11 pm Monday, December 16, 2019

A stack of seven textbooks, or one Chromebook?

Under a new initiative called SPS Connect, high school and middle school students in Suffolk Public Schools will be able to forego the back-breaking stack in favor of having 24/7 access to laptops that will be preloaded with their textbooks.

The target date to launch the program is Feb. 1.

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“We really, honestly, feel this is going to be the missing link to allow our students to really have anytime, anywhere learning in a full-fledged one-to-one model,” said Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, referring to every student having a laptop.

He said Phase 2 of the program would expand Chromebooks to fifth-grade students in September.

“We’re hoping that our secondary students can model the proper way to use them for research instruction and collaboration,” Gordon said.

School Board members got a look at the difference between carrying the seven textbooks in a backpack, versus carrying one Chromebook.

“These are seven textbooks that throughout the school year, our students at the secondary level have been asked to carry around in their bookbags (and) at home,” Gordon said. “That’s a back problem waiting to happen. We wanted to make sure as we continue to work for our open education resources that we’re actually going to upload our textbooks onto our Chromebooks to give our kids that access.”

In that way, for students who do not have internet access at home, they will still be able to use their textbooks as needed. Still, Gordon said the school division is working with business partners in the community to provide hotspots for those students to be checked out from school media centers.

Students will be responsible for the care of the laptops, and they will still have to follow the school division’s acceptable use policy when using the Chromebooks outside of school. They will all have the same internet filtering safeguards at home as are in place at school.

Board members viewed a video introducing the program, which showed SPS students talking about the difficulties in completing assignments at home without Chromebooks. One student talked of not having time to complete assignments in during class and having to ask a teacher during a resource block to use a computer to work on an assignment. Another spoke of having glitches on her home computer that did not allow her to complete her project, while yet another spoke of the limitations of using a tablet.

In the video, Gordon said the program would be the missing link to closing the achievement gap.

“For the first time in Suffolk Public Schools’ history, our secondary students are going to be able to take their Chromebooks home,” Gordon said in the video. “We’re talking about anytime, anywhere learning, where our kids will have collaboration, increased communication and the opportunity to really work well with their fellow students in the classroom.

“SPS Connect is also going to help us to eliminate the digital divide – what I mean is the opportunity for students to be able to use technology regardless of whether they’re in school, at home, in a coffee shop, anywhere. We want to make sure that our kids have that same opportunity regardless of where they are.”