The traditional excuses for missing homework — “My dog ate it” or “I forgot” — are no longer usable at Freeport High School. That’s because more than 2,000 students at the school have been issued Chromebooks as part of Phase Two of the Smart Schools Bond Act and the Freeport school district’s ongoing initiative to provide students and staff with cutting-edge technology and making the classroom and homework a digital experience.
“I’m pleased and excited about our technology initiative,” Dr. Kishore Kuncham, the schools superintendent, said. “Staff and students have already embraced the amazing possibilities and opportunities the Chromebooks provide.”
According to Kuncham, the Smart Schools Bond Act was a statewide initiative to invest in technology. Freeport Public Schools received about $5.9 million through the program, with $3.4 million allocated this year. The remaining $2.5 million in funds will go to revitalization of the Caroline G. Atkins Intermediate School’s electrical wiring. In addition, the district will make four portable classrooms into permanent ones.
“This a great tool to enhance instruction,” Kuncham said of the Chromebooks. “This allows teacher and students to be more interactive in the classroom.”
The district’s goal is to provide laptops for students in grades five to 12. By the end of the 2018-19 school year, Kuncham said, all students at J.W. Dodd Middle School should also have Chromebooks.
Students at Atkinson and Dodd schools have been equipped with carts of Chromebooks, iPads and laptops. Access to technology has also expanded to the lower grades, including kindergarten and first-grade classes.
Last school year, during the launch of phase one, all Freeport teachers were equipped with Chromebooks and training to prepare them for this year’s rollout. All teachers, trained as Google educators, are implementing new methodologies to integrate the use of Chromebooks in their classrooms. The phase two plans also include providing teacher assistants with Chromebooks and training. The teacher assistants are expected to receive their computers in the next week.
According to Dr. Mary Anne DeVivio, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, teachers have access to a wide range of applications that they can use as technology aids. Teachers are using Google Classroom, Ed Puzzle, Pear Deck, Google Hangouts, Google Calendars, Google Docs and Sheets, along with websites such as SAT Prep and Khan Academy, to enhance academic instruction and learning.
“Students love technology,” DeVivio said. “Always have and always will. This platform supports independent learning. Students are able to use applications they are familiar with. What’s most important is that teachers are going to be able to communicate with students through the digital classroom and be able to do text review with the students from home.”
Not all students might have reliable Internet access at home, however, so the district was awarded a $200,000 grant, renewable for five years, from the Sprint Foundation’s 1Million Project to provide high-speed Internet access for any high school student who might not have it at home. This year 300 Freeport students will receive Internet access and a device. After that, each year for five years, another 300 students will receive access. By the end of the fifth year, a total of 1,500 students will benefit from the grant.
Freeport High School social studies teacher Joshua Levitt said it has been refreshing to see the students becoming more interested in researching their subjects and collaborating with their peers digitally.
“I use a lot of digital sites, like Ed Puzzle and Google Classroom,” Levitt said. “ I’ve pretty much have gone to an all-digital format, and essentially the Chromebook has become their notebook. Of course, we still use pen and paper to write essays or bubble in multiple-choice tests, but other than that, I have the kids using Google Docs to take notes, using Google Slides to look at my notes. Everything is done through the Google Classroom.”
Students are not only using the laptops at school, but also are taking them home to conduct research and complete homework assignments. Freeport High junior Jocelyn Mora said she can already see the difference in using the Chromebook to work on her school assignments.
“Some of the many benefits of the Chromebooks are that they save a lot of time and paper,” Mora said. “You can log on anywhere and work on Google Docs. It’s preparing us for college because everything is put online, all assignments can be accessed electronically, and it’s very conducive to conducting research.”
Kuncham said phase two of the Chromebook rollout is only the beginning. He is planning a four-year plan to keep technology at the schools after full integration of the Chromebooks in all district schools.
Dr. Anthony Murray, the Freeport School District director of math and technology, said teachers are now more than just the educators. They are also becoming the facilitators guiding the students through a wide-range of subjects using computers.
“We have to recognize that our students are learning in many different ways,” Murray said. “The teacher is no longer the sole source of information. Information is really at [students’] fingertips. The teacher’s role in this 21st-century learning is that of a facilitator.”