Federal money helps NA High School students switch to MacBooks

Since October 2009, some students in the New Albany School District have received MacBooks to help them with their daily classroom activities as well as with their homework.

Under the Title I American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) budget, the New Albany School District’s Special Education Department (SPED) received stimulus funds for the first time in July 2009.

The ARRA program is part of President Obama’s stimulus plan for education. The three goals of this plan are to save and create jobs, improve student achievement, and reporting and accountability.

In addition to receiving stimulus funds for ARRA, the SPED at New Albany School District can also use some of that stimulus money to help fund Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B more fully.

IDEA Part B is the regular budget that provides services to children with disabilities and provides individualized education to those students.

Kelly Coltharp, director of special services, said, “Most of this money goes towards personnel, professional development, student travel, instructional supplies, etc. IDEA Part B is for students ages 6-21 and that stimulus money is $469, 142. The preschool budget is for students ages 3-5 and that budget is $20, 000.”

“The stimulus funds came with certain requirements and came with principles that we have to follow. The first one was to spend funds quickly to save and create jobs,” said Coltharp.

“I want to get all of the teachers new desktop computers so they can write an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for each student and also to perform daily tasks, digital cameras, movie cameras, DVD players, portable DVD players, DVD reading programs, listening centers, radios and CD players for a music center, notebook Mac computers for students with assistive technology software including text to speech, and other technology items,” said Coltharp.

She did purchase a majority of that equipment and technology, including MacBooks for students and MacBook Pros for teachers. There were 74 laptops purchased in all for the New Albany School District, which includes 22 MacBook Pros for the teachers and 52 student computers. The total cost for the laptops was $96, 200.

Coltharp’s original goal was for students with disabilities to reach their maximum potential and be productive citizens of their community. She had a “big idea” on how to make a difference in children’s lives.

The “big idea” was:

n Each student at the New Albany High School grades 9-12, ages 14-21 with disabilities, according to IDEA, will be assigned a laptop computer.

n The individual will be able to learn more than they do now because individualized learning will be enhanced through technology. All readers, especially struggling readers, need to be engaged and given incentive to learn to read. The laptops will provide this incentive.

n The laptops will give them a software variety to access during the school day and at home. Textbooks, writing software, required readings, access to internet, and literacy programs will be loaded on to each laptop.

n Taking the laptop into the home will expand the child’s learning into the family and community. The family will become more informed about the child’s education needs and practices and be a vital part of the support group the child needs to succeed.

This idea has worked and the laptops have been implemented since October 2009. Last week, there was an update on how the MacBooks have been improving and changing the lives of the teachers and students that have been involved and are using the laptops.

SPED Director for Lee County Angie Cherry said, “It may have been one of the most beneficial presentations for me this year because you let teachers and students explain how technology was making daily school life just a little easier for children who get up every morning and struggle.”

New Albany High School Junior Matthew James Stacy said, “The laptops are pretty nice and white is a good color for a laptop. I go to Web sites, learn about the solar system, learn about history, etc. I look up things for homework on there and I think it is easier for me to remember stuff from computers than from books. I need the pictures to help me learn and see.”

Diploma track students have the ability to take the laptops home with them for their homework and other school-related projects. 31 students are diploma track students, but only five actually take them home. The laptops are housed in the one of the classrooms that the students go to each day and each student can take them to each class throughout the day.

NAHS Freshman Dylan Mills likes the text to speech feature because it allows him to hear the words and learn the sounds and pronunciation better. He also likes using the dictionary and thesaurus too.

Every student that uses these MacBooks has a gmail account set up, so teachers can e-mail one of their teachers, Judy Brown, the lesson plan, notes, power points, or any other information to her and she can forward that information on to the students so they will always have the information they need to follow along in class, study with, or do homework with at home.

NAHS Senior Shanna Bell said, “I can get study sheets, notes, and other information from my gmail account and it makes school a lot easier. I like text to speech because I can comprehend the information more by hearing it – it makes a lot more sense. And I can check my gmail account at home too.”

Coltharp said, “This is making the students more independent. The collaborations between student and teacher have been exceptional.”

NAHS Freshman Brooke Hamilton said, “The laptops are helping me study a lot more on my own and helping me become more independent.”

NAHS Sophomore Jessica Driver said, “I love my MacBook. It helps me with my schoolwork. I can look up stuff on the internet and it helps me with my notes.”

Robert Garrett, calculus, pre-trig, and pre-calculus teacher, said, “For the kids, having all of their stuff in one location is good. Kids pay more attention to computers as opposed to pen and paper, they practice their reading more, and they like using their computers. By doing work electronically, I think it opens up an avenue to force them to read more because it is technology, is fast, is up-to-date, and when they use the computers, they are preparing themselves for the future.”