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N-F students take advantage of one-to-one computer opportunity

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The students at Newell-Fonda High School were each handed a world of knowledge at the start of the school year and one semester later, administrators and staff are proud to say that the students are taking full advantage of the opportunity.

The small school district received a personal computer - Mac Book - for each student to use in school and out for the next four years, at no cost to them. Apple Inc. has partnered up with the district in this endeavor, which includes 1,200 other districts across the nation. Newell-Fonda is the first district in the state to take part in this program which the district is calling "Log-on To a New Way of Learning."

While Superintendent Jeff Dicks thought it would take a great while to get everything running smoothly, he is proud to say, "we are further along than I ever anticipated. Our students and staff are accomplishing things at a pace faster than I could have imagined."

Last week, an open house was held at the school to allow supporters, community members, area school district representatives and policy-makers into the classrooms to see for themselves the excitement the computers have created and see for themselves how successful the students are with their computers.

Apple representatives spent a great deal of time in the school during the summer making it a wireless environment; teachers had their computers for several weeks before school started to become familiar with the programs; and students were issued their computers a week before school started to begin the connection with the machines that now practically go everywhere with the students.

Tim Limbert was hired as the new technology director and is right there for the kids and the teachers who have questions. Part of his daily attire is a radio, to allow contact to him at all times during the school day. He drops what he is doing to answer questions. Those students and staff may also send him an instant message which he responds to promptly.

The key to the success of the program, is that support. "That response," he said, "keeps people from getting frustrated."

What about the chance of students getting on the computer and looking at inappropriate sites? Unlikely! The tech director has blocked many sites on the computer so whether the computer is used at school or home, the sites can't be entered.

In this fast-paced world, the students agree that using the computers has made their lives easier but they can no longer use the excuse that the dog ate their homework since most of it is stored on the computer now.

Classwork is also oldered on the computers. "It can't get lost, unless its deleted," said Jami Georgiades.

Kimberly Eccher said the computers have made things easier for those students who are members of the school newspaper and yearbook. "We can work on it wherever we are," Alissa Christensen and Karina Overgaard agreed, saying that in the past, there were six computers to put the paper and yearbook together and the staff members had to take turns using them. Plus, "they crashed every other day!"

The computer to student ratio (1 to 1) is the greatest advantage. Leah Cowell said that it is no longer necessary to get a pass to go to the computer lab to use a computer. "The student-computer ratio was low before so sometimes we had to wait."

She added that she felt the expectations of the students is higher now because everyone does have his or her own computer. "In my case (and for many other students) that's good. I get so much more done and it's so much easier to get things done."

Students carry their computers everywhere; some students even work on homework while sitting at athletic events so they won't have it to do after a long night. Alissa Christensen said she has her computer with her up until the end of her day, and often plays games on it to relax before turning in for the night.

While a majority of the work is completed on the computer, some teachers still require some writing, which many of the students are okay with. The computers haven't yet replaced the text books, but eventually, they may. Jami Georgiades and Kimberly Eccher would like to think that eventually, that could save the rain forest.

The computers also make life easier for the teachers. Papers no longer clutters the desktop of the teachers; the homework can be completed by the students and placed into the files on the desktop of the teacher's computer.

Students are expected to take care of their own computers. There have been a few broken screens which have been replaced at the students' expense. They don't want to leave their computers laying around and have Supt. Dicks pick them up, either; that means having to go to his office to retrieve it - and enduring a talk! The students know that having the computers is a privilege - so do parents. There are few mistreatment issues.

A representative from Apple Inc. was on hand and told those in attendance after their tour through the classrooms and observation of the students and computers at work that the key to such a program is to "have strong leadership in your administration; one which has a vision to see where the future is headed. If you don't have that, it won't be successful."

Supt. Dicks added that the support has been "110 percent from our board members."

The program was also a big undertaking for the teachers.

"They have been phenomenal through this process," said Supt. Dicks, saying he never heard any complaining. "They have been just as excited and continue to see the potential."

A parent came up to Supt. Dicks at the open house and asked what does the future hold - will in 15 years will kids even have to come to school? He answered, "It's scary to think about that but I hope so. I like the interaction."

School board member Roger Sarchet agreed.

"There's nothing like learning from someone in a room."

The computers were purchased with funds in the School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) one cent sales tax and Physical Plant and Equipment Levy funds.

"We've been financially responsible with our SILO funds," Dicks said in April when the announcement was made that the district would be taking part in the program. "This is a big commitment but we need to look at the benefits - they are infinite."

While the high school students are the targets this year, there is already talk of bringing the program to the middle school in the near future.



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