Central City Steps into 21st Century Learning Environment
School Launches 1-to-1 Laptop Initiative ~ August 2008
By Summer Evans
Click here to view the video version of this story or here to download it.
School boards across the state have grappled with how to infuse technology into classrooms, especially as they strive to provide children with a 21st century education. One small school district, Central City, took a giant leap this fall and outfitted all 420 of its students with laptops in what is believed to be the first K-12 1-to-1 laptop initiative in Iowa.
"We’re taking the initial steps of going into the 21st century learning environment," said superintendent John Dotson. "We have purchased laptop computers for all of our students. Virtually, we’re going K-12, but every student [grades] five through 12 will receive their own laptop computer to keep with them 24-7 throughout the school year."
Kindergarten through fourth-grade students will have laptops available in their classrooms.
Central City officials decided to try the program because they needed to provide their students with more computer access, but had no room in the school for more computer labs. They made it a priority and dedicated over $500,000 of the school infrastructure local option sales tax revenues to the project.
Educators celebrated the new program with a kickoff event on Aug. 19. Legislators, representatives from the governor’s office, officials from the Iowa Department of Education and IASB District #6 director Lee Ann Grimley were present. Students and their families also attended, going through orientation, then taking the computers home to get acquainted.
The extent to which the district is going in order to enrich its technology and teaching was surprising to some.
Central City junior Kolin Schmidt said, "I was kind of in disbelief. I wasn’t sure if I understood correctly because I didn’t know if that was a very reachable goal by this small of a school district. But I was proven wrong."
It took about a year to prove most skeptics wrong; not even board president David Goodlove was sure about the project in the beginning. But the school board and Dotson did intense research, got advice from the school’s technology committee and held a community forum with Apple representatives. School board members even visited schools in Nebraska and Minnesota to see 1-to-1 programs firsthand, which proved to be inspiring.
"We knew we needed something," said board member Sue Pillard. "We were definitely behind the times. We needed to step up to the plate."
Only time will tell how successful this effort will be. But it does have people excited.
"You definitely need to invest in the future because these kids are the future," said parent Joyce Howe. "If we don’t advance them now, they’re going to be so far behind that it’ll be hard to catch up and [cost] more money in the long run."
Teachers have had their laptops since April, and participated in professional development sessions earlier in the summer to learn how best to incorporate laptops into their classrooms. Research shows that in order to be useful, educators cannot simply give students technology – they must put the technology to use in meaningful ways.
Dotson said this will be a new opportunity for all students.
"What we’ve done is we’ve leveled the playing field for our students. We’ve set higher expectations for them. But the level playing field is that it doesn’t matter what their socioeconomic situation is, no matter if they’re a talented and gifted student or a student on an IEP,"Dotson said, referring to the individual education plans in place for students with special needs.
He also believes students will take more ownership in their learning. Board member Pillard agrees. "It means a wealth of information is going to be at their fingertips," Pillard said. "It’s going to be a great tool."
Sophomore Paige Howe said she’s already thinking of new ways to share knowledge. "We’ll definitely be able to do more things [with the laptops]. We’ll be able to not have to deal with papers and stuff. We’ll be able to use e-mail," she said.
Although they are off to a strong start, board members and administrators know there will be challenges: keeping up with technology support, making sure students take care of the computers, and so on. But they also know they will deal with those challenges in the same way they got this project moving.
"It all takes teamwork," Dotson said. "When you’re looking at a program of this magnitude, it all takes teamwork and leadership skills."
To see video from the laptop rollout event, click here.
Parents and students sit through orientation sessions to learn how to
best use their new Apple laptops to improve learning.