Students at 10 Greenville County schools will be issued Chromebooks after classes start as the state’s largest system rolls out a multiyear, one-to-one computing initiative. About 7,500 students - third through 12th graders - will get the laptop devices after classes start Aug. 16 for use at school. They will eventually also take them home, said Jeff McCoy, the district’s director of academic innovation and technology.
One-to-one computing initiatives provide students filtered access to the internet, digital course materials and digital textbooks. In South Carolina, the initiatives coincide with a state plan for students to start taking tests online, McCoy said.
“It’s coming pretty soon,” he said. “By 2018, there is supposed to be a requirement that everybody is doing the online testing.”
The Chromebooks are being issued this year at Mauldin Elementary, Mauldin Middle, Mauldin High, Stone Academy, Mitchell Road Elementary, Berea Middle, Northwood Middle, Bell’s Crossing Elementary, Brushy Creek Elementary and Buena Vista Elementary. Those schools will join Fisher Middle School, Monarch Elementary School and A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering as schools offering laptops to students. Over the next three to four years, McCoy said nearly 50,000 students will be receiving Chromebooks.
McCoy said the real goal of the initiative is “transforming the classroom. It is not really about the device. It is really about transforming the classroom instruction, doing more of the project-based learning, doing more of transformation of that instruction…How do we connect with people around the world for experts and projects? How do we really use this device to further the learning experience?” McCoy said the change makes each teacher “more of a facilitator during the day in the classroom.” He said that means “maybe a little more up front time planning.”
“We look at this as an opportunity to teach kids and train kids about how to use the devices, for productivity and appropriate use online,” McCoy said. He said students need to know “which tools to use for what purposes. They need to know when Twitter is appropriate and when to use Word, or when to use Google Drive.” He said students’ future employers “would consider that a very important skill those kids are able to use.”
McCoy said students will still have the option of not using a computer for everything.
“Every child has a learning style of course,” he said. “We are not certainly saying every child has to use the computer for every purpose. Students may decide they want to use, they may want to handwrite something instead of typing on the computer and we still want to give those options to kids.”
McCoy said the school board has allocated $12 million and administrators of the 76,000 student Greenville County system have been preparing for the three- or four-year initiative that includes teacher and staff training before Chromebooks are issued. He said the 10 schools selected were those that applied and last year started training teachers and staff.
Each Chromebook costs the district about $250, which McCoy also said includes a maintenance agreement. He said students will each pay $25 a year to help cover the cost of maintenance and insurance and “we would hope to get five plus years” of use from the devices.
Greenville received $2.5 million in FY 2015, $2.4 million in FY 2016 and is projected to get $2.4 million for FY 2017, state Department of Education records show. McCoy said the district has already implemented infrastructure to support online testing in accordance with the mandate that districts be able to test online by 2018. He said the district received approval to use the funds for the devices.
McCoy said the Greenville County system has focused for several years on “putting appropriate technology in the classroom.” He said Houston and Baltimore are among systems nationally that are models for technology advances in schools. Richland, Horry and Charleston counties are models among South Carolina systems, and McCoy said Greenville has been examining those districts and how they are implementing the technology.
“I think what we were very cautious about, learning from across the country, was that the piece that needed to be in place first was making sure that teachers were trained,” McCoy said. “We kind of took a couple of years to make sure that we’ve shored up what we need to do with teachers to make them feel comfortable in the classroom, and that is always going to be ongoing, that training.”
McCoy said the 10 Greenville County schools issuing the devices this year will show “what is working and what is not working. We’ve been planning this for years so we feel like it will be a very smooth rollout. There’s always going to be little things that come up and teachers getting used to things. We anticipate that first week kids will start using the devices at school. We don’t anticipate devices going home with students until mid to late September, maybe early October.”
McCoy said schools in the Greenville County system already provide students access to digital devices, but the affordability of the Chromebook “really made it to the point where we could afford it.”
State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has said that by 2018 a goal is to have at least one school in every district with personalized learning implemented that supports students' meeting a “Profile of the South Carolina Graduate.” The profile includes world class skills in creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration and teamwork, communication, information, media and technology.
McCoy said the planning discussions have included how to talk to parents and to the community about the initiative.
“We have had quite a bit of following of parents who really have been asking, ‘When is my child going to get that in my school?’” McCoy said. “We still feel like we need to prepare the community because there are always going to be some parents who are a little bit anxious about that. And we still want to make sure that control lies with the parents.” He said the initiative includes “doing some training with parents about online access and making sure kids stay safe online, which also carries over to their cell phone use as well.”