Next August when school begins again, all fifth-graders at Komarek School in North Riverside will get a shiny new 11-inch Apple MacBook Air laptop computer as the school begins a new one-to-one laptop program.

Last month, the District 94 Board of Education approved a new technology fee of $100 for fifth-graders to help pay for the cost of the computers.

In succeeding years, all fifth graders will get new laptop computers they will keep until they graduate from eighth grade. When students graduate from Komarek, they will be given the option to buy their laptop computer from the district.

It will cost the district $185,000 to lease the computers for three years. When the lease is up, the district will have the option to buy the computers for $1 each.

District 94 Superintendent Neil Pellicci said that Apple computers are the best choice for the district, even if they are more expensive than other brands.

“We felt the reliability was best,” Pellicci said. “Over the years we’ve had Dells, we’ve had HP, [but] we felt that for school applications the Apples really were the best bet for us, for durability.”

Pellicci said that district staff visited LaGrange Highlands School and a middle school in Tinley Park to look at how other one-to-one programs have been implemented. District staff did not arrange a site visit to its neighbor to the south, Riverside Elementary School District 96, which began a similar one-to-one program with Apple laptops five years ago. 

The District 96 one-to-one program has received mixed reviews from parents and administrators.

“We couldn’t work out a time for us to get over there,” Pellicci said of the failure to visit District 96.

Unlike District 96, Komarek School has upgraded its broadband capacity before starting its one-to-one program by beefing up access points and purchasing new equipment.

Fifth-graders will be able to take their laptops home next year after they and their parents get some training.

“The students will be able to take them home after the parents and the students go through what we call a boot camp, a series of meetings they’re going to have to attend to learn the ins and outs, what to do, what not to do, that type of thing,” Pellicci said.

As the year goes on, the laptops will be used more and more in the classroom, starting at maybe 20 percent of classroom time to approximately 60 percent by the end of the year, Pellicci said.  

“It’s going to kind of change the way you teach,” Pellicci said. “It’s going to be a lot of group projects, more kind of toward the Common Core ideas where they have more project-based learning.”

Pellicci said that in two years he hopes to have all textbooks loaded on to the computers.