Howard County, Md. Continues to Phase in Laptops From Youngest to Oldest Students

The county is leasing laptops in a multi-year initiative designed to give every student a device to use at school.

by Jon Bleiweis, Catonsville Times, Ellicott City, Md. / September 15, 2016 0

(TNS) — The wait is over.

Sixth graders at Arbutus Middle School lined up in the school library Wednesday morning to get their own computers for academic use.

As fifth graders, they watched younger students get devices the year before as part of the county school system's multi-year plan to phase in the computers in all schools.

"Everybody in fifth grade was jealous," said 10-year-old Cameron Rodriguez.

Library media specialist Don Whitby handed the HP Elitebook Revolve 810 G2 computers to the students, giving a word of caution to each of them to be careful, as the device will be with them the entire three years they attend the school.

Students will no longer have to wait to get access to a computer lab at school or nag a parent to get time at the home computer, said April Jones, an assistant principal.

Students are looking forward to using the devices to do homework and check grades.

"It's much easier to work," said 12-year-old Ryan Gower. "Instead of using paper, you'll be able to use websites that can help you."

The county school board approved a seven-year, $205 million contract with Clarksburg-based Daly Computers Inc., to provide about 150,000 devices under a four-year leasing program in March 2014.

The computer selected for the initiative, known as Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, features a pivoting 11.6-inch high-definition display screen, a camera and the Windows 8.1 operating system.

Ryan Imbriale, executive director in the school system's Department of Innovative Learning, said it was picked because it can function as tablet with touchscreen capabilities, as well as a fully functional laptop.

Imbriale said it was important for everyone in the school system -- students and staff -- to use the same device, to ease workflow and classroom management issues. The computer selection was made after studying school systems around the country and talking with focus groups that included teachers, students, parents and administrators.

Leasing ensures the school system can have the newest resources, Imbriale said.

Ten elementary schools test-piloted the computer program -- grades 1-3 in the 2014-15 school year and the remaining grades in the 2015-16 school year. This year, all elementary and middle schoolers are getting them. High school students will get them in the 2017-18 school year.

"When you start with your youngest learners and you build curriculum and lessons and create a digital ecosystem that's built around your youngest learners first, that that model then grows year by year and pushes up with those students," Imbriale said.

Students in middle and high school will be able to take the devices home. While students in kindergarten through second grade must leave the computers at school; the school system is weighing whether third through fifth graders can carry them home.

When the school system receives the devices, it adds an image with tools and resources for users including the Microsoft Office suite of applications. But most of what the students will access come from BCPSOne, the school system's digital portal that allows students and parents to access a range of information, from grades to lessons.

After students received the computers, they sat at tables figuring out how they worked before they were sent back to class.

11-year-old Noah Smith was impressed.

"It's pretty cool that I get my own computer," he said. "I can just go on it at any time and check my grades without having to ask my dad to use his computer."

©2016 the Catonsville Times (Ellicott City, Md.,) distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.