One-to-one laptop program to begin next year

Sean Simonson

Many thought that it would never happen, but starting next year, every student at Benilde-St. Margaret’s will be given a school-owned Apple laptop computer. The one-to-one laptop program will imitate the current junior high program and is designed to prepare students for technology that they will encounter in college and the work place.

A plan for this program has been in place for a long time, but the major problem has been how to fund it. Apple has recently given BSM a very attractive offer at a very good rate, said school president Dr. Bob Tift. He also said that funds for the program will come from a combination of an increase in tuition, a new technology fee, and money from fundraising efforts, including money gained from selling the old laptops and desktops. The total cost of the technology program, including the computers, software, additional staff and teacher training, and maintenance will cost approximately $560,000 (about $470 per student).

The program is an extension of the school’s plan to inject technology into the learning process. Over the summer, teachers attended a technology seminar and the administration has plans to train them even further. Teachers also have the opportunity to sit in on junior high classes to understand how to integrate the computers into their curriculum. “It’s not about [just] the laptops, it’s about how we teach and learn,” said principal Dr. Skinner.

The administration has made the decision to only use school-owned laptops to level the playing field, so all students have access to the same software and no student will have an advantage with a more expensive model. “BSM wants to make sure that all students have the tools they need to succeed now and in the future,” said Mr. Steve Pohlen, head of the technology department.

With every student using a Mac, training someone to assist in troubleshooting will be much more cost effective and teachers will only have to aim lessons towards one type of operating system. “[That should] help teachers help students,” said Dr. Skinner.

The administration is giving control to the teachers regarding use in the classrooms, said Dr. Tift. The teachers themselves will have the power to limit or open the door to use of computers in the curriculum, even regarding online textbooks.

English teacher Mrs. Brew finds that the laptops are already a part of her classes, but a one-to-one program will give her much more consistent access. The cart system is a big frustration to her and one problem the administration hopes to solve. “We already have about 370 computers in the senior high that would need replacing over time and the demand for the laptop carts has been consistently rising over the last few years,” said Mr. Pohlen.

Ms. Mary Windsor, a Spanish teacher, plans on using the laptops much more in her classes. Because she will no longer have to sign out one of the school’s heavy laptop carts and lug it down the entire freshman hallway, using technology in the projects she assigns will be a much simpler process. “I’m excited to do more podcasting,” said Ms. Windsor, explaining that it really helps students when they are able to hear themselves speak in another language.

Math teacher Mr. Dan Bowler is also excited by the many possibilities that the laptops will bring to the classroom, such as online textbooks. However, he is aware that it may take a little while before the math department is able to fully integrate the laptops into the curriculum. “[The laptops] won’t have as much of an impact in math [right away],” he said.

Despite some of the teachers’ positive outlooks, many students aren’t very excited. “I hated having them in junior high,” said freshman Jenny Crane, who attended BSM for middle school, “they were such a distraction, I never got homework done.”

Many students are concerned that they will just be added weight to the already heavy load many carry in their backpacks. “I didn’t like carrying them around [in junior high],” said freshman Ava Azadegan, “but I liked having them.”

Seventy percent of this year’s freshman class had laptops in junior high. Having laptops in the junior high had a tremendous impact on learning and teaching in BSM’s junior high, said Dr. Tift, and the school wants to carry that through to the senior high.

The laptops are a part of a plan to teach twenty-first century learners, which is aimed at preparing students for increasingly complex life, not only in college, but also in the workplace, said Dr. Skinner. She also said that with the laptops, students will have access to a medium that will allow for greater communication and a plethora of new tools.