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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Homestead senior Josh Thompson, foreground, focuses on his new laptop as Karen Hirschy, at rear, instructs her business class. Wednesday was the first day of classes in Southwest Allen, and high school students got their new laptops.

1st day sees laptop of change

Homestead High classmates quickly warm to new units

– It was almost silent in advanced placement chemistry teacher Rob Dillman’s class Wednesday as he told his students about his expectations for the coming year.

Almost silent, that is, expect for an unmistakable tapping sound.

The noise – prevalent around Homestead High School on Wednesday, the first day of school – was the sound of students typing away on keyboards.

Starting this year, every Homestead High student must come to school with an HP laptop provided by the school.

Bailey Miller, 16, said he and his friends were pretty excited about the computers.

“The general view is pretty optimistic,” he said. “It’s going to help our ability to learn the material and improve the communication between teachers and students.”

This spring, the Southwest Allen County Schools board voted to spend $1.3 million for 2,300 HP laptops for high school students. Officials said the move was within budget, because the district was due to replace many desktop computers and could buy new laptops instead.

The high school students are the second group of students to receive individual laptop computers. Last fall, students at the district’s two middle schools also received their own computers.

District administrators believe the laptops will keep students engaged, promote new styles of learning and help develop technology skills for jobs and college. The move also allows the district to use less paper, because students can submit their assignments online as opposed to paper copies.

Homestead students have to pay $30 toward insurance of their laptops. The students can take the units home at night and are required to charge them so they are ready for use the next day.

Steve Lake, interim principal at Homestead, said he knows the rollout won’t be perfect. He said the district is implementing a digital citizenship program to ensure students learn to use their laptops and the Internet appropriately. Social networking sites such as Facebook will be blocked, and officials will closely watch what search terms are used and what sites are visited, he said.

“I love being able to use technology,” Lake said. “But it’s also a jungle. There are some beautiful things out there, but there are also some dangerous things you need to be aware of.”

Southwest Allen is one of several local districts investing in technology this year. In April, East Allen County Schools decided to spend about $3.5 million to buy iPads for every student in grades 4 through 12, and iPads for one of every four students in grades 1 through 3.

In June, the Fort Wayne Community Schools board voted to buy 2,490 iPads for middle school and high school use, though the devices will be shared between classrooms.

Northwest Allen County Schools, which also started school Wednesday, is considering buying laptops and iPads. But the district has put the plans on hold until the board believes the district can afford the devices.

SACS officials said they spent months researching whether to buy laptops or tablets. Laptops seemed like the smarter choice, they said, because students could take standardized tests on the devices without having to scroll across the screen when they read their questions.

Homestead teacher Karen Hirschy, who teaches a course to part-time, working seniors, said her students thought the laptops were a better choice than the iPad, because they used the latter for playing games and the former for doing real work.

She said most of her students liked the laptops, though some complained about having to carry them through the hallways along with textbooks, which the district plans to eventually phase out.

Miller, who was typing away during Dillman’s class Wednesday morning, said he thought the computers would give students more accountability. Now that students can email their papers to their teachers, he said they can’t use the “dog ate my paper” or “my printer broke,” excuse.

“I think they’re really great,” he said of the laptops. “As long as teachers are able to use them in the right way, there’s great potential for them to really help out with learning.”