Laptops granted to class

Chris Thelen/Staff
Midland Valley High School student Savannah Strom, 14, talks about laptop computers that she and 350 freshmen will receive through a grant.

LANGLEY --- Savannah Strom says a new laptop she'll receive this week at Midland Valley High School should help her become better organized.

"Right now my notebooks are kind of astray," the 14-year-old said. "We'll get flash drives (in addition to a laptop), so I can type my notes now. Everything will be online now."

Savannah and 350 of her freshman classmates will have HP laptops to take home and use in class as part of a state grant awarded in the summer.

Midland Valley High is the largest of six South Carolina schools to receive the laptop and tech-support packages, valued at $1,500 for each computer. The laptops will remain with students until they graduate in 2011.

The grant was written with the help of district administrators and Public Education Partners, a local nonprofit organization.

Students attended a Wednesday ceremony with parents to register user names, passwords and serial numbers. Although laptops didn't go home right away, students and teachers said they've already spent the week excitedly discussing how they will be used.

"It's not that paper resources weren't there, but we're rethinking the way we teach with new resources," said Donya Long, an English teacher at Midland Valley.

Notes, journals and assignments will be kept online through the Moodle program, an open-source software that creates virtual classrooms. Moodle will constantly keep everyone plugged into the latest classroom information and also allows students to collaborate online, so group work can be done without having to be in the same location.

Even with the new capabilities, students have already been warned that even though the computer goes home, it should be used like a school computer. This means no visiting sites such as MySpace or downloading music.

"We tell them it's a tool, not a toy," said Lisa Deibel, a Midland Valley English teacher, about keeping students on track during class.

Eventually teachers will have capabilities to view all the students' monitors in class with one click if they are worried about wandering Web surfers.

Parents also are being told of the best practices for the computer in the home.

"It's not going to be a problem for some students, but it's really up to the parents to set rules and expectations of use," said Patti Strom, Savannah's mother. "Some of it just seems common sense, but then you never know."

Savannah doesn't expect her classmates to be too reckless with the new technology, saying, "We'll put them to good use."

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.