New plan gives students year-round technology access

Huntsville City Schools students will have more access to technology when the next school year begins.

The school board voted Thursday to buy about 17,000 new laptops designed for take-home, year-round use.

Dr. Casey Wardynski, Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, said the program will mirror what students will experience in the college or professional worlds.

"We know in college they are going to have computers from the minute they get there," said Wardynski. "We know in the workplace they are going to have computers the minute they get there. Do people in college say, 'geeze, can we afford to let these kids have technology?' No. In the workplace, do they deprive employees of technology? No. They expect them to be responsible with it and we will do the same with the kids."

Students will be issued one HP Laptop to keep for a max of three years. The student will have the laptop during the fall, winter, spring and summer. The system plans to have virtual classrooms available even during months students are not in school.

"Our plan will be, perhaps next summer, we start doing virtual instruction in the summer. So, a child can sign up, we'd have a teacher on our end and they'd have a virtual class session. It could be about some enrichment activity, or they could do the same thing on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe there's a virtual study session. I'm a little bit stuck, I can join in with my classmates, my teacher at a certain time and place on the Internet," said Wardynski. "We're really looking to move beyond brick and mortar. School buildings don't define education. Teachers, curriculum, student engagement, that defines education."

Kindergarten through second grade students will use iPads in the classroom. Those iPads will not go home with the students. Third grade students will use Netbook computers the district already owns. Fourth through 12th grade students will get new laptops.

The program will cost the district $3 million in the first year. Wardynski said that is lower than the $5 million the district would spend buying new textbooks.

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