Every seventh-grade student at Dempsey Middle School soon will become the proud steward of his or her own computer.
In an effort to provide students with access to a computer 24/7, next school year's seventh-graders will be given Google Chromebooks for the duration of their middle school career in Delaware schools.
It's part of the program called Dempsey 1:1, which means every student will receive a laptop.
"We want to make sure every student has access to the Internet and a word processing program," said Superintendent Paul Craft. "This will free our teachers to assign students any Internet-related assignment and students will have the ability to complete this."
Teachers already make assignments that require the use of a computer, but they must schedule computer lab time to ensure all students have access.
Dempsey Principal Andrew Hatton said the program has been in the works for some time, and he believes it's a great idea.
"We know it's the right thing for our kids, but before the Chromebook came out, it just wasn't affordable," he said. "Now, it's feasible. If we don't do it now, when will we do it?"
By providing all students with a laptop, teachers have more options for assignments, Hatton said.
"We are going to need teachers every step of the way," he said. "This is a 21st-century tool that will help teachers individualize instruction and design lesson plans for a digital platform."
Hatton said computers will never replace teachers. Although students have access to information from all sorts of devices, they still need to know what to do with the information, he said.
"We can't just be in the business of delivering information," he said. "We want them to make connections, solve problems and analyze information. We need teachers who can do that."
Craft said the computers will be each student's individual responsibility and they will get to keep it throughout their middle school career.
Next year, the district anticipates an enrollment of 470 seventh-grade students. The Google Chromebooks cost about $250 apiece and will be funded by the Delaware Foundation's tax abatement reimbursement fund.
With 470 laptops, there are bound to be some technical problems. Craft said the district will have a technology assistant from the district's technology department available to support this program.
"Although we have tech support, we've heard from other districts who do similar programs that the students become so familiar with these devices that they end up troubleshooting for each other," he said.
Students can provide each other with tech support, seeing as how they are "digital natives," Craft said.
Many of the students' textbooks have digital versions, which means students will be able to keep most of their books on their new laptops.
"Our goal isn't to get rid of books, but books become damaged over the years," Craft said. "Although this seems costly up front, having books in a digital format will save money in the long run."
Hatton said he is working with a committee of administrative staff and teachers to determine the logistics of providing the laptops, as well as designing curriculum around them.
"This is a very fun and exciting time," he said. "We can't wait to see how providing these laptops to our students will decrease the digital divide and level the playing field for all students in our community."