ST. JOSEPH — A portion of students who attend the three elementary schools within the St. Joseph Public Schools district will get a technology boost in the classroom next year.

The One-to-One program, which began seven years ago by providing laptop computers to incoming sixth-grade students at Upton Middle School, is now being extended to fourth- and fifth-graders across the district.

Amy Dirlam, director of K-12 media and instructional technology, said this marks the beginning stage of the program’s third phase.

Dirlam said fourth- and fifth-grade students will each receive Chromebook laptops to use in class as a way to prepare for the MacBook Air that they’ll get in middle school.

“We’ve been looking forward to expanding the access for the middle school level and increasing the relevancy of a digital curriculum,” Dirlam said. “With the help of the (St. Joseph Public Schools) Foundation grant, we will take them to a One-to-One environment.”

Bryan Parsons, St. Joseph’s director of technology, said elementary school classrooms have been operating on a two-to-one ratio of students-to-device proportions. With an average of 30 students to a classroom, the district has had 15 devices per room.

Parsons said the decision was made so students are better prepared to use the laptops in middle school.

“This goes along with our strategic plans, which was to continue to add technology into the students’ hands at elementary schools,” Parsons said.

There are a few key differences between the program at the middle and elementary school level.

Students at the elementary schools will be assigned a Chromebook to use in class. Unlike the sixth-graders, they won’t be able to take the Chromebooks home with them. In middle school they won’t have the option to keep the Chromebooks. Instead they’ll get a MacBook Air that can be taken home.

“We’ll have a bit different management to these devices. It will be supervised at all times,” Parsons said. “We do MacBook Airs at the sixth-grade level and we don’t have any plans to change that.”

Dirlam said the goal is to start at an earlier age in teaching online digital citizenship.

By this, Dirlam said they’ve emphasized trust with students on how they use the devices in class.

The One-to-One program was introduced to only one class at the middle school in 2012. As the first wave of students began to reach high school, the district implemented the second phase, which administrators have referred to as the Bring Your Own Device program.

“We had always talked about starting with the middle school, moving BYOD to the high school and circling back to the lower levels,” Dirlam said. Administrators have been discussing the third phase with elementary school teachers since May. “We have a pretty intense professional development plan over the summer to prepare them for that environment. We will present the program to parents and students later on as well.”

The program is primarily funded through an annual contribution of $100,000 from the SJPS Foundation, while the rest comes from the school district budget.

Students can purchase laptops at a discounted rate once they enter ninth-grade. Laptops that aren’t bought are sold to other students before the public gets a chance.

The district usually buys between 210 and 250 laptops each year, depending on class size. 

Dirlam said they’ve added technology to the elementary schools for years now, which included the recent addition of iPads to kindergarten classes.

“These students have already had technology in their classrooms, so it won’t be as new to them. I expect this to be a smooth transition,” Dirlam said. “This will also free up space for the common room computers to younger students. Our computer labs will be more accessible.”

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