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By Marlys Weaver-Stoesz
GOSHEN - The Goshen High School class of 2015 will graduate in four years with a different sort of education than any of the classes before it.
Almost 480 Goshen freshmen picked up a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E420 Thursday evening that they will use for school work in and out of the school building and also for email, games, music and other personal uses, during their time at the high school.
Assistant Principal Noah Tonk welcomed the students and their families into education's growing digital world.
"Your children are helping us embark upon one of the next great factors in American education right here in Goshen, Indiana," he said. "The future of employment in the United States will depend upon the students who are ready for careers in a digital environment."
Tonk said that some parents had told him that they'd prefer their children to continue their educations with the traditional textbook, paper and pencil.
"The trouble is that there is no textbook anymore," he said. "This laptop is now your child's textbook, novel set, portfolio, notebook, binder, pen and pencil, encyclopedia" and more.
Beginning next week, students will be able to develop projects online together, view documents that another student is working on and observe how other students analyze, create Wiki-based online resources out of class material and much more, Tonk told the crowd.
Diane Woodworth, deputy superintendent, said that the new computers have Windows 7 and Google Chrome installed. The school has set up a Google Apps account for each student containing official school email, access to a calendar application and the ability to develop websites, and Woodworth said that students will likely use Google Docs, a collaborative document service, very often.
'We really think of these students as digital natives," she said. "It's what they know, so let's use that for school."
Students, accompanied by at least one guardian, received their laptops in shifts, first listening to Tonk in the high school's auditorium before heading to the cafeteria to pick up their laptop. All students then had to turn their laptop on and set up their accounts.
Woodworth said she was already impressed by how most students were so knowledgeable and knew exactly what they were doing on the new machines.
Goshen administrators' conversations to further implement technology moved to reality during the summer as the school board agreed to pursue looking into purchasing laptops in May and then approved their purchase in July. The plan is to distribute laptops to each incoming class of students, so that in four years, all Goshen High School students have one.
Along with better preparing students for college and careers, Goshen administrators have said they plan to save money in the long-run by eliminating textbooks. The laptops will help the school meet state standards moving toward required online testing and increase the accessibility of up-to-date information.
Rental fees for freshmen parents are $115.93 and the corporation also requires parents to pay a $30 warranty. The warranty covers if the computer is damaged or broken, but not if it is damaged intentionally or stolen, Tonk said. Students were each given a backpack-style carrying case for the laptops to help prevent damage.
The total cost to the school corporation, including laptops, batteries, backpacks and extended warranties, is $317,765, according to Woodworth.
Parents pay part of that, through the rental fee and separate warranty payments, while the remainder, $192,803, will come from the corporation's capital projects fund.
Students on free-and-reduced lunch receive reduced textbook rental fees, which, for Goshen's freshmen, is for the laptops. The state then reimburses Goshen Community Schools for a portion or all of that amount, Woodworth said.
Tonk told families that the school is also planning to give out a list of where free wireless Internet access is available in the district. That will include the high school's parking lot where Internet is available to those with a Goshen schools account.
In the schools, Tonk said in an interview, the laptops will use the same strict filter that Goshen's desktop computers use.
"While at home, we expect parents to monitor their children's Internet use," he said, adding that once students return to school, administrators are able to check their histories for inappropriate use, which is the school's right as the laptops are school-owned.
"They can go to Facebook, they can go to Twitter, they can watch YouTube videos," he said, but students are not allowed to install anything on the laptop.
Many parents were excited to see their kids receive a laptop and the potential for more digital learning.
Jorge Campos Jr., like many students, said that he was excited to have less to keep track of - fewer papers and books - and an all-around lighter backpack.
His father, though, was excited for the students to further their technological learning.
"I work with computers all day long," Jorge Campos Sr., a corporate salesman, said. "It's where all the jobs are headed."
Plenty of parents have concerns along with their excitement about the new program, too.
"I think it's a big responsibility," Kathie Adams, the mother of Amber Adams, said. "I think it's one they need to have, but for me to have responsibility for what she might do with it, I don't like that ... She could drop it walking to or from school, anything, anything."
Teachers are set to begin utilizing the laptops in class today, Woodworth said.
Science teacher Zeb Holsopple said that students in his classes would be using the new laptops "all day, everyday."
All assignments, activities, lab outlines and notes are on Moodle, a learning management system, that he said will be students' prime resource.
"Everytime they need something, they can pull it up in class or at home," he said. "We just need to make sure they know how to properly source sites - junk science versus real science, but that will be included in our curriculum," he added.
Administrators have acknowledged that, while the goal is to eventually have laptops for all students, this will be a learning year and could alter future plans.