For better or worse, Tupelo’s homes gain new tool

TUPELO – It is not always easy for Binky Campeau to monitor the computer usage of all of her children – she has eight of them.
Three of Campeau’s children were among those who were issued computers at the beginning of the school year by the Tupelo Public School District. Harrison, a senior at Tupelo High School; Jacob, a junior at THS and Rebekah, an eighth-grader at Tupelo Middle School, all received laptops.
Campeau acknowledges that in households with fewer children, parents may be able to have their children do homework at the kitchen table while they monitor their progress. In a household with eight kids and where rooms are usually a more quiet place to get work done, that task is more difficult.
“With eight kids, you stay busy, so you don’t realize how much time they spend on the computer,” she said. “All of a sudden, you realize you haven’t seen so and so, I wonder what they are doing.”
In October 2009, the Tupelo Public School District announced a new initiative to provide students and teachers with MacBooks in order to create a 21st-Century learning environment.
Teachers, administrators and last year’s seniors began receiving the machines in January, while all sixth- to 12th-grade students were given them at the beginning of the current school year.
The computers have created new classroom experiences for teachers and students. They’ve also changed life at home, said several of the 10 parents interviewed for this story.
For one, it gives students access to another tool. Sometimes they use that tool educationally, sometimes they do not.
Parents have had trouble with students spending long hours playing games, listening to music, surfing the Internet or chatting with friends.
At the same time, they’ve also seen new opportunities for studying. Pami Taylor, whose 11-year-old daughter, Maya Sachdev, is a sixth-grader at Milam, said that she and her daughter use the computer when they study for tests together.
Vafa Jamasbi said that her eighth-grade daughter, Kimya, uses the computer’s iChat program to help friends work on math problems, and Campeau said her daughter will sometimes use the same program to study with a friend at night.
Mary Thomas said that her sixth-grade daughter, Edie, often will use her computer to make video skits with friends who spend the night.
Thomas also has two other children with laptops – a son, Van, who is a senior and a daughter, Maggie, who is in ninth grade.
“My life hasn’t changed that much,” Thomas said. “I was never one to be that involved in homework except when they needed help.
“The change I’ve seen is their excitement about school. Maybe it is just the newness of it, but they seem to be eager to get their homework done.”
While most classrooms have sets of textbooks for students to use while at school, most students no longer take those books home, a fact that has made backpacks lighter.
“I’m thrilled their backpacks aren’t as heavy,” Taylor said. “When my son was in seventh and eighth grade, his backpack was over 50 pounds. Now, most books, if not all of them, are online. I don’t have to worry that my daughter left a book at school. As long as I have the laptop, I have access.”
However, many parents also worry that students are not reading hard copies of texts or using pen and paper as much to take notes.
“If I have a negative, I still think kids learn pen to paper,” Taylor said.
Campeau said that before this initiative, she and her husband had three laptops and a desktop computer in their house. Now there are six laptops and a desktop.
She said it might have been preferable if the district had classroom sets of computers for the students to use at school rather than giving each one a personal machine to take home.
“You have to control the amount of time they spend on the computers,” Campeau said. “You have to break it down, is it homework or social time?”
Rosa Morales said she limits the amount of time her daughter, Karla, a seventh-grader at Tupelo Middle School, can spend online to about an hour a day. She also said that the computer’s resources have been good for her child.
A small minority of parents have returned their laptops. Out of nearly 3,177 middle and high school students, about eight had either returned or not picked up their computers, according to Tupelo Middle Principal Linda Clifton and Tupelo High Principal Lee Stratton. Milam Principal Travis Beard could not reached.
Other parents said they are thankful that the students have been given the opportunity.
“The most exciting thing for me as a parent is just that I know that the jobs out there that my kids will be competing for will be looking for applicants who are computer literate,” Thomas said.
Parents have also had to deal with technical issues, such as learning to use a Macintosh computer or trying to get a home printer to be compatible with the district’s laptops.
“It would have been great if we had all the infrastructure in place, but the truth of the matter is that I think it is going to be OK,” Thomas said.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal