By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LIBERTY — Middle schoolers may not always be on the same page, but at St. James School, they are now learning on the same Chromebook.
Nov. 23 was “Chromebook Day” at Liberty’s only Catholic school.
Through a major school-wide fundraising effort, each of the 100 sixth, seventh and eighth graders were issued their own, personal Hewlett-Packard Chromebook so that they will all have the same learning technology.
“This levels the playing field,” said science teacher Tom Evans, who was as excited as his students. “This makes sure they all have the same computer at home and at school.”
The 100 Chromebooks — essentially a smaller, lighter, less expensive laptop without the DVD/CD drive but capable of all the applications of a full laptop — is just the first phase in a project that will eventually put every grade from the third grade on up in the school on the same type of learning technology, said Julie Miller, the school’s technology teacher.
“Our goal is to get these all the way down to the third grade,” Miller said.
Each student will have the same Chromebook for their entire career at St. James, she said. When this year’s eighth graders graduate, those computers will be assigned to next year’s fifth graders, and new computers will be purchased for the incoming sixth graders.
Each Chromebook cost $260, plus another $30 for protective carrying cases so that the students can take their computers not only from class to class, but also home. In addition, each parent pays $50 to insure the computer against everything — except loss.
They are, after all, keeping up with the up-to-date Liberty Public School District, Miller said.
“They’ve got them all the way down to kindergarten,” she said.
The possibilities of all students using the same technology are endless, Evans said.
For instance, since the computers use the Google operating system, they are already on such applications as “Google Classroom” which will allow students to easily collaborate on projects, and will also be a one-stop place for teachers to put all assignments.
And when students need to research on the Internet, they can do that in their classrooms at their desks, rather than making a trip to the school’s computer lab, or checking out a laptop from the travelling cart.
In addition, the same Chromebook makes it easy for the school to limit access to Web sites over the school’s secured wireless WiFi Internet connecting system that will help keep the students on task.
And yes, the school’s special Chromebook Day booklet has a page on “Care & Procedures” aimed directly at the middle schoolers.
“No food or drinks allowed around the Chromebooks.”
“Ensure your bag is fully zipped to prevent the device from falling out.”
“You may not swing your Chromebook bag.”
Evans said he is already planning on lectures via the Internet.
“We are now able to bring in experts to give guest lectures,” he said. “They may not have the time to come here to the school, but they can do it over videochat.”
The Chromebooks got rave reviews from the people who matter most.
“It’s pretty cool,” said sixth grader Luke Tamburelli. “It’s nice that the school can afford the technology for the students.”
“It’s nice to have the same things the public schools have,” said sixth grader Matthew Nelson. “It will be great to get on the Internet without getting a computer from the cart.”