HIAWASSEE, Ga. -- Every middle school pupil carries a laptop computer to class here, and educators are finding that their cyberliteracy is rubbing off on parents in a community where 37 percent of the adults dropped out of high school.
When their children aren't using the computers to do homework and write book reports, the parents are learning to type, use spreadsheets and surf the Internet to discover the world beyond the Appalachians.
"It is an awesome task to overcome a historical inertia of this magnitude, in that high school dropouts tend to beget high school dropouts," said Stephen Smith, Towns County Middle School principal. "In an attempt to combat this vicious cycle of illiteracy, it is imperative to introduce a program in which students and their parents are able to participate."
In northern Georgia's Towns County, all 270 middle school students were given the StudyPro computers, manfactured by Samsung for NetSchools Corp., at the beginning of the school year and have been using them in every class.
The technology was paid for by a $320,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, which provides money for economic development and infrastructure improvements in 13 Appalachian states. An additional $80,000 came from local donors.
And it's that local interest that has really gotten the project going, Smith said.
Before the computers could be handed out, parents and students had to attend computer camps. Only one parent failed to make it to the two-day seminar.
While Smith said the parents were "very supportive," some pupils said their parents were a little too supportive.
"My dad uses it way too often," 13-year-old Jake Hollingshed said. "He made these forms for his job on it and had me take it to school and print it off."
When Chris Ledford, 13, brought home his laptop, it became the family's first computer.
"I'd never used the Internet before he brought this home," said Dennis Ledford, Chris' dad. "It's easy to get hooked on. I look at it for hours sometimes. I have a body shop and I can look at parts on it."
Some problems remain, however. Pupils sometimes forget to bring the computers to class, most of them don't know how to type, and some teachers remain uncertain how to incorporate computer use into their lessons.
In western Georgia's Meriwether County, 400 middle school pupils use computers in the classroom this year, and Jill Harman, the school system's technology director, hopes to send the computers home with children next year.
"One of the tangible goals is that if these start going home, the families will see how easy they are to use," she said. "If there's enough interest from people wanting to take the GED, we could put the software on there so the families could use them to prepare for it."