It appears likely that next year every freshman at Riverside Brookfield High School will receive a Chromebook as the school begins to phase in its one-to-one laptop initiative.
The District 208 school board is expected to give the final approval this spring to the program.
A Chromebook looks like a standard laptop computer, but it lacks an internal hard drive. Instead of storing its own programs and information, Chromebooks access cloud-based programs and applications.
Chromebooks, which retail for as low as $199, are becoming an increasingly popular means to give students access to the Internet. The plan is for each succeeding freshman classes to receive Chromebooks so that by the 2018-19 all students will have a school-supplied device.
“I’m very excited about the possibility of being able to have a one-to-one environment for our freshmen next year,” said RB Principal Kristin Smetana. “I think it will greatly enhance the learning environment and student engagement and provide them opportunities to develop some of the 21st-century skills that they’ll need to be successful, not only in college, but in their future career choice as well.”
A $70 technology fee, a $40 increase from the present $30 technology fee, will be assessed to freshmen next year to help defray the costs of the Chromebooks and to pay for insurance and an extended warrantee. Students who do not receive Chromebooks, (all sophomores, juniors and seniors) will continue to pay the $30 technology fee next year. Students who qualify for free lunches will have the technology fee waived.
It has yet to be decided if next year’s freshmen will be able to keep their school-issued Chromebooks when they graduate in 2019, and the district has not yet decided whether to buy or lease the devices.
This year all honors biology, Advanced Placement statistics, economics and consumer economics classes at RBHS have been using Chromebooks in a pilot project.
“Staff members are using technology quite frequently in their classrooms, at least once a week,” said RB Instructional Technology Coordinator Bridget Wilmot when she appeared before the District 208 school board last month to give a report on the pilot project.
Wilmot said 61 percent of students in the pilot program reported using Chromebooks at least once a week.
School board member Tim Walsh said that he thought that figure was low. He said that he hoped the figure would be higher for next year’s freshmen.
“I have concerns about how much it’s going to be used,” Walsh said. “At the end of the year I’d hate to see 61 percent say they used it once a week. I’d be very disappointed if we got a report next year that 39 percent use it less than once a week.”
Walsh said he was not ready to commit to a full four-year phase-in of a complete one-to-one program.
“We can’t guarantee we’re going to fund it over four years,” Walsh said.
Administrators said they expected the usage rate to go up next year when all freshmen will have Chromebooks they can take home. In the pilot program this year, Chromebooks are stored on a cart and generally do not leave the classroom.
Administrators said it would take some time to train teachers on the best ways to use the devices in their teaching.
“It’s a definite culture shift,” Smetana said. “Technology is not here to replace the classroom teacher; it’s designed to supplement the classroom teacher.”
Some classes are more amenable to computer-based instruction than others. It has proven to be difficult to do math instruction via the computer.
“In some subject areas it’s difficult to incorporate [Chromebooks] every day, in others it isn’t,” said Smetana, a former math teacher.
Total cost for the one-to-one Chromebook program is projected to be $242,800 in 2015-16, $230,450 in 2016-17, $228,300 in 2017-18 and $224,500 in 2018-19.
The administration has earmarked a $165,000 grant from its custodial firm, Aramark, to largely fund the program next year, along with $18,336 in federal anti-poverty funding and $23,800 from the school’s technology fee.