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Asheville City schools expanding laptop program

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2/13/2012 - Asheville City schools expanding laptop program
by Julie Ball - Asheville Citizen Times

 ASHEVILLE -- City schools later this month will distribute nearly 900 laptops to students at Asheville High and the School of Inquiry and Life Science, part of an effort to level the technology playing field.

 "When all students have the laptops, it's going to ensure that learning can continue to take place beyond the classroom walls," said Shannon Baggett, instructional technology facilitator and lead teacher at SILSA.

Freshmen got the computers when they started school in August. Later this month, laptops will be distributed to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Debby Dunn, who has a freshman and a junior in the city school system, says the laptops have made her more involved in her child's education.

"At first I was hesitant about it because I didn't know how well I could keep track of what they were doing," Dunn said. "But they give you their password so you can go on and check it at any time to see where they've been and what they are doing. I can also review everything she's done through the day in classes by going on. So, I almost feel like I'm part of it."

Freshman Chelsea Dunn has been using the laptop since the start of the school year.

"I really like having them. It makes the school work a lot easier," she said. "You can go on and check your grades and find the assignments and the due dates."

But not every student likes the idea.

Senior Alice Jamison is concerned that she won't be able to access the Internet at home using the machines. Jamison has her own laptop at home. She's used the school laptops in the classroom.

"I don't like the computer very much. It jumps around a lot," she said.

Jamison said she understands why the school system is distributing the laptops, but as a senior, Jamison would prefer if the program were optional. "I don't really want to deal with it right now," she said.

School officials say students should be able to access the Internet at home using the laptops. The machines are set up with filters that prevent students from using social networking sites or sites deemed inappropriate. The school system has also set up a help desk for students who have problems with a laptop.

Baggett said it's important that all students are working on the same equipment and using the same programs that teachers have been trained to use.

"Some people are really excited and glad this is finally here, but there are some parents that are a little hesitant about it," Baggett said.

The school system first distributed laptops to freshmen last year. They are using grant money and some school system dollars to pay for the machines. Each machine costs about $750, according to Steve Molinari, ninth-grade assistant principal at Asheville High.

Students are paying a fee of $25 per semester to cover insurance costs and to make the program sustainable.

"We want to make sure that all students have the same technology opportunities, so we're trying to make sure that it is available to every student regardless of what their income may be," said Keith Pittman, instructional technology facilitator for Asheville High School.

The laptops allow students to collaborate on a project without being in the same room.

"The days of having to go over to your friend's house on a weekend and pull a late-nighter to work on a project, they are gone. Now, they can be in their own houses, working on a project and the project actually turns out even better than it did," Pittman said.

Baggett said access to laptops is changing the way teachers are teaching.

"With the freshman, I have seen teaching and learning change dramatically because it has allowed our teachers and the students to be so much more collaborative in the work that they do," she said.

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