Putting even greater emphasis on technology in the classroom, Kountze ISD next year plans to supply all 1,100 of its students with personal laptops loaded with digital editions of textbooks, educational software and the capability to move standardized testing completely online.
The district this spring leased 1,300 computers, enough for each student from kindergarten through high school to have their own to bring to and from school each day. Teachers also get one, and schools will have spares on campus in case students
forget theirs or laptops break.
Superintendent John Ferguson said the district is one of the first in Southeast Texas to have a 1 to 1 student-to-computer ratio. Sabine Pass ISD has a similar program, he said.
“What a lot of places aren’t doing is preparing kids for jobs in the future,” said Patti Crouch, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.
“They need to learn how to learn, not just studying facts but learning how to arrive at an answer and enhance their own learning,” she said.
The laptops have a system of filters to restrict internet use, and teachers can see what programs or sites students are using in the classroom or at home.
“As a parent, I’m excited,” said Kountze Elementary principal Shane Reyenga, though as an administrator, she said, it can be nerve-wracking to “now be responsible for not just 400 souls, but also their internet use.”
Kindergarten through third-graders will receive computers with touchscreens, which he said most children are familiar with.
Teachers will receive their computers in April to have time to prepare before the district-wide rollout for the next school year.
The computers will be used differently, according to age.
Elementary students’ laptops will have programs that enable them to read at their own pace, for instance.
Meanwhile, middle school principal Thomas Cooley said teachers will be able to assess work more quickly, helping them know what needs to be reviewed or retaught.
“They’ll be nice to have for distance learning,” said senior Miley Overstreet, who is disappointed to be missing out on the new program.
Enhance, not replace
She will start at Lamar in the fall with five college classes already completed through online distance learning.
Overstreet said it was sometimes frustrating when she needed to do work for the college class during the high school’s spring break.
Students enrolled in online courses through Lee College or other area schools currently use desktop computers during the school day, but junior Reagan Mathews said the laptops will make finishing online work easier.
“It’s not meant to replace the traditional classroom, it’s meant to enhance them,” said Chet Deaver, Kountze High School‘s principal. “We can use the same interest that (students) already have in technology and harness that and channel it.”
Some things won’t change, administrators said – math problems will still require pencils and paper, and many of the district’s textbooks already come with digital editions, so students are used to reading them on screens.
The Chromebooks cost the district about $292,000, which was covered by state and federal funding for instructional materials, as well as grants from the state for career and technical education and for low-income students, technology director Spencer Mathews said.
About 45 percent of the district’s students were considered economically disadvantaged in 2015-16, according to Texas Education Agency data.
Upgrading the district’s internet to prepare for more than 1,000 simultaneous users was another $238,000, mostly covered by grants as well.
Only $55,000 in district budget funds were used for the upgrades, he said.
Deaver said most of the district’s students have internet access at home, and he pointed to public places including libraries and restaurants that offer wi-fi as well.
“Almost every public place has some form of internet,” he said.
“When I was in school, we’d gather up all our notes and papers and go to Waffle House or Denny’s and have a study session. They can do the same thing with the laptops,” Deaver said.
In 2015, 75 percent of Texas households had internet subscription, according to U.S. Census data, and 86.7 percent had a computer.
Lower income households were less likely to have access, with nearly half of households earning under $20,000 per year without an internet subscription.
Kountze students without access at home will be able to use the laptops before the school day begins, Reyenga said.
Addressing issues as they arise “is just going to be a process,” Reyenga said.
“We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it,” Reyenga said.