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Freshmen set to get computers

September 29, 2011
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Parents of many Fairmont Area ninth-graders on Wednesday learned the details of a pilot project that will give their children a Netbook to use during the school year.

The district invited parents in to review the policy and insurance options available, and offered a presentation of the computer's capability.

According to the policy, students will be given a Companion Touch Netbook to use at school and home. At the end of the school year, the equipment needs to be turned in and held by the district until the next school year starts.

The computers are loaded with textbooks for many classes and programs designed to help students work efficiently, in and out of class.

According to high school Principal Dave Paschke, the Netbooks are capable of linking up to the teacher's computer and with other students in the class. Students can interact with each other from their seats, take notes directly in their digital textbook, and work collaboratively with classmates.

The school has been working on the pilot project since the end of last school year, seeking advice from other districts that use similar technology.

But students have to be prepared to use the machines appropriately.

"We expect students to use them each day, take them home, and charge them every night," Paschke said.

Students not comfortable taking the computers home are allowed to check them into the library at the end of the school day, but they will need to complete their homework before they leave or have another method for completing their work.

Paschke said the computers come equipped with certain safeguards to ensure student safety online. While it is difficult to control student actions at home, the district computer use policy does extends to wherever the computer goes.

Some activities prohibited include:

o Sending, accessing, uploading, downloading or distributing offensive, profane, threatening, pornographic, obscene or sexually explicit materials.

o Use of chat rooms, sites selling term papers, book reports and other forms of student work.

o Downloading applications.

o Students are not allowed to give out personal information, for any reason, over the Internet. This includes, but is not limited to setting up Internet accounts.

o Bypassing the Fairmont web filter through web proxy.

Paschke said there are internal safeties as well.

"There are programs run in the background that take screen shots every so often," he said.

The school plans to bring the computers in every so often, and can check how the computers are being used by the students.

The computers cost about $700 each on the open market, with parents encouraged to cover the devices by insurance. The school offers three protection plans.

First is opting to carry no insurance at all, but agreeing to pay for any damages to the Netbook up to $500. The second option involves providing proof the equipment is covered under personal insurance. The third option requires a non-refundable $50 annual protection payment, with a $150 family maximum.

"If that presents a financial hardship, I want the families to come to me and we can see if we can work something out," Paschke said. "I don't have a blanket policy for that."

Superintendent Joe Brown estimates students are carrying around at least $500 in textbooks in their backpacks, as each one costs $70 to $80.

Teachers have had time to experiment with the computers and work out some glitches before students are given their computers sometime next week.

"We are just trying to make sure we don't have education down time due to technical issues," Paschke said.

The Netbooks will be distributed as soon as parents and students sign the use pledge and insurance paperwork. For some that will be as soon as Friday.

Parents assembled at Wednesday's meeting didn't ask many questions about the technology project, but one said he had some concerns about a variety of smaller issues and is interested to see how the project turns out for the year.

Paschke said he is aware there are going to be glitches and issues that the school can not control, but that is part of the lesson to students.

"We can say we need to keep this stuff away from the students, " he said. "But it is better to teach them at the high school level [how to manage their electronic data] than have them get into real trouble."

Mike Plucinski, a science teacher at the school and coordinator of the Netbook project, talked with parents about how to discuss Internet safety with students.

"Don't let them go into their rooms and close the door with the computer all night," he told them. "Have them use it in the open and talk to them about what they are doing."

Another parent meeting will be held 7 p.m. tonight in the high school commons.



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