Chromebook Time

St. Clair R-XIII junior and senior high school students are starting the district’s one-to-one digital learning initiative as Google Chromebooks were distributed to them earlier this week. The devices are intended to complement textbook learning and provide additional opportunities for students to use the Internet for educational purposes. Here, SCHS seniors and twins Haley, left, and Hannah Molkenbur power up their computers after they were given to them in the library.

The highly anticipated Google Chromebook rollout in the St. Clair R-XIII School District may have been delayed a few days by inclement weather, but all indications were that it went smoothly.

The majority of students in both the junior and senior high schools received their Chromebooks this week as the district begins its one-to-one digital learning initiative that will complement textbook teaching in the classroom.

“I don’t know if the community at large understands the magnitude of what we’re doing,” Superintendent Mike Murphy told school board members during their January meeting on Thursday night.

Beginning this past Monday, students in grades six through 12 who had registered to get a Chromebook and whose $20 usage fee had been turned in received the device and began exploring on how to use it. Detailed instructions were given as the youngsters got their units.

Murphy said more than 75 percent of all students in those grade levels now have the computers. He said the majority of students who are not part of the program are the second-semester seniors at the high school.

More than 80 percent of students in both the sophomore and junior classes have their computers.

“The real uniqueness of what I observed was the student engagement,” said Murphy, who spent time during the week at both schools to observe the process.

Both of those building principals agreed.

“The rollout was awesome,” SCJHS Principal Steve Weinhold said. “The kids were respectful and anxious to get the books. And, the collaboration between them was great. I’m seeing numerous students helping each other learn how to use them just in this first week.”

High school Principal Mike Hunter agreed.

“The collaboration has not been forced, it’s just happening right now,” he said of the SCHS students. “There was some apprehension among the staff at first, but now that the rollout has taken place, maybe it’s not so nerve-racking anymore. The kids are excited about it. It’s been a really good thing so far.”

Murphy said students who have not paid the insurance fee and who will be checking out Chromebooks on a daily basis will receive theirs next week. Those students will get their devices at the start of every school day but will have to leave them on school grounds at the end of the day. The same process will be repeated daily.

The students who have paid the insurance fee get to keep their Chromebooks with them and take them home.

“This is a journey and not a destination,” Murphy said of the learning initiative. “This is a powerful took for instruction. I’m looking forward to what the students, staff and the community experience through this process.

“I’m very pleased so far. I want to get through the newness of the project and get to the meat of it to see what we really can do with it.”

Last year, the board of education approved spending nearly $500,000 to purchase 1,400 Google Chromebooks as part of the one-to-one initiative. The devices have been tailored to fit the district’s needs, including filters that limit accessibility of certain content.

Google Apps for Education will be used. Each device cost $280.

All students had to sign off on a Chromebook policy.

Last semester, several “Power Up” meetings were conducted to educate parents on the initiative as well as to give them the opportunity to register their children for it and pay the insurance fee.

Topics covered included Chromebook expectations, usage and accidental damage fees, a Google Chrome overview and device connectivity outside the school day.

Having the Chromebooks will give R-XIII students Internet access at their fingertips throughout the school day to help with the education process. Blended lessons plans will be developed by teachers that include traditional textbooks.

Murphy has said that this second semester of the 2013-14 academic year is “experimental” as he hopes bugs and problems will be worked out over the course of the coming months.