Students to get laptop devices

Starting next year, Bowman County Public Schools will be implementing a pilot program that will eventually get a laptop computer device into the hands of every student in the school.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW—A new laptop device sits next to a current computer. Student will be issues new devices in the next couple of years. (Pioneer Photo by Cole Benz)

By COLE BENZ | Pioneer Editor

The program—which will be tested next year in grades Kindergarten, fifth and seventh before a full implementation—is a 1-to-1 program, meaning each student will get one device. Though the kindergarten classes will share a bank of devices.

“One device per student in the school,” said Jonathan Jahner, teacher and one of the lead educators on this project. “The grand goal of the whole thing is that each kid has their own computer that they take with them.”

Conversations between Jahner and the former superintendent Tony Duletski began about five or six years ago, Jahner said. Those talks continued when current superintendent David Mahon came on board with Bowman schools. Mahon had experience as they used a similar program at the school he was with in Baker, Mont.

A committee was then created to discuss this potential curriculum addition. This committee—comprised of educators from lower elementary, upper elementary, junior high, and high school—surveyed the rest of the faculty, and the survey came back 45-2 in favor of the new addition. Jahner said he was surprised that the support was so high, knowing that as a teacher himself, it’s hard to implement a new change to curriculum, let alone new hardware.

“They were very, very supportive,” he said. “We said ‘hey, if our teachers are ready then we need to jump on it.’”

This change is a growing trend among public education institutions, with Beulah being one of the closer schools to implement a device-oriented program.

So why start something like this?

“You just carry your computer with you,” Jahner said. “The wasted time of getting people in [the computer lab] and getting them going is gone. So that’s one of the keys to it.”

Jahner also told the Pioneer that the demand for time in the computer lab is extremely high. And adding this equipment also gives the student more flexibility. By hanging their own computer to do their work eliminates their need to seek out time between classes, or before or after school to get into the computer lab.

Jahner said that kids hold their own devices in high regard, constantly on them, so he thinks now is a the right time to add these computers.

“It’s time,” he said. “It’s 2017, kids are fairly attached to their devices if we’re going to reach them, we’re going to need to reach them where we can get them.”

The school will also utilize the cloud available by their Office 365, which will allow teachers to post their homework assignments, and made downloadable for students’ access. Along with the cloud, students can access the Microsoft programs through their own Office 365 account, which is provided to each student by the state.

After the pilot program next year, assuming everything goes smoothly, Jahner said they will start a full-blown implementation. As these devices become more pertinent, Jahner thinks the computer labs will disappear, and the labs will turn into study stations.

“My plan, is in five years, when those computers in [the lab] are wore out, I won’t replace them,” he said. “And so all that will be there will be a power cord and a network cable and you just walk down with your machine you plug in.”

When all students are equipped with a computer, students in grades Kindergarten through sixth grade will be required to keep their devices in the classroom. But students in grades seven through 12 will be allowed to take their devices home. Students and their families will be responsible for a $25 protection fee. That money will go into a pool and become the school’s self-insurance fund. In the event of a damaged device, money from that pool will be used for the repair. However, each incident of damage will be dealt with on case-by-case basis, and if it’s deemed damaged because of negligence, the student would be responsible for the repair costs.

If a family doesn’t have internet connectivity at home, the student can download their course work at school before returning home for the day.

The device will also be protected by the state’s and local school’s network filter, even when the device is away from the building. So the filter will prevent a student from accessing inappropriate internet content, like online gambling.

“What you can actual do with these devices, you can make these so that that state filter, or the filter that we want to create will stay with this device no matter where it’s at,” Jahner said.

Jahner asked for, and received a five-year commitment to this program. He requested the commitment for a couple of reasons. One, was the fact that they are leasing the devices on a five-year plan. So if the school wanted to discontinue the use of the devices, they would be on the hook for the rest of the contract. But the other reason was the fact that he wanted to make sure that any of the trouble in implementation wouldn’t be a deterrent from continued use. Basically he didn’t want the school to scrap the plan if the first year or two went rough. Jahner did admit he was asking some more from the faculty.

“Unfortunately for teachers there’s some much on their plate, putting anything else on there scares me,” he said. “But I’m hoping in the long run, that this actually makes life easier for them.”

Along with benefiting the students and cutting time accessing technology; monitoring growth and progress analytics will be quicker as teachers start testing on the computers.

“I’m just thankful to the school, the teachers, their support, they’ve been awesome. Our technology committee is excellent, they’re such good people,” Jahner said. “To the school board, thanks for believing in us and giving us a shot to do this.”

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