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Wiregrass program opens campus to laptops
A pilot program lets students bring them to school for notes and research only.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 23, 2007
Junior Jeena Patel, 16, center, has put away her pencil and paper while taking part in a program that allows students to bring their laptops into the classroom. She's taking notes during a lecture on protein strands and genetic mutations at Wiregrass Ranch High.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
Sophomore Josh Heissler, 16, works on his laptop while in the media center Monday. "It's pretty cool, because most high schools don't usually do this," Heissler said. Freshmen Brooke Sotolongo, 14, center, and Brooke Ridgeway, 14, are on the couch at right.
WESLEY CHAPEL - Try to find a teenager these days who isn't tech-savvy. It won't be easy.
They've got iPods and MySpace and cell phones and the list goes on.
Just ask Kyle Parramore. The 16-year-old Wiregrass Ranch High junior says he's logged on to his computer "pretty much every minute I'm awake."
So how, then, does it make sense to tell these multimedia multitaskers that, when they walk into school, they need to leave that world behind in favor of the paper and pencil lifestyle of a generation before?
It doesn't, says Wiregrass Ranch principal Ray Bonti.
"They are functioning with technology at warp speed," Bonti says. "Sometimes, when they walk into a regular classroom and we hand them a paper and pencil, it's almost like they crash."
That's why he has offered Wiregrass Ranch as Pasco County's pilot site for what's being called "open campus."
In groups of 30, the school is registering students' laptops for use during the school day. Once the students complete a short course, where they review rules and responsibilities, their computer's unique digital identification goes into the school's network server.
They get a special holographic sticker to put on the computer lid, and they're free to use their laptop in class and in the school's two wireless hot spots, the cafeteria and the media center.
Kyle, one of four students typing notes in Jill Hrovoski's anatomy class, says the new program has made a world of difference in his schooling.
"I lose papers a lot, so it's a great way to manage everything I do," he explains. "Everywhere I go, my computer goes with me."
You might think these kids are just going to surf the Internet for sports scores or instant message their friends. But you'd be closer to wrong than right.
While some of that might go on - and face it, adults do it, too - the students who already have registered their laptops say they have better things to do. Like school work.
"I have three Advanced Placement classes," says Jeena Patel, also a 16-year-old junior, after saving her anatomy notes and shutting down her computer. "It makes it a lot easier if I can type everything. It makes it faster, and I can start my assignments at lunch."
Sophomore Tina Andrews, 15, says she edits articles for the student newspaper, creates PowerPoint presentations for classes and does her homework, all while in the classroom. She notes that many of her teachers put their assignments online, and several have class blogs, too.
The open campus makes it easier to do the work while it's fresh.
"I think it's great," Tina says. Plus, she adds, "it makes me feel like we're older."
Kevin Snyder, another 15-year-old sophomore, agrees that the transition to the computer culture makes sense. He says he can read his typewritten notes better than his own handwriting, and he can practice the Web design assignments his teacher makes, as well as do research while in school instead of afterward.
"I can't remember going a day without using a computer," he says. "You have to have one for college, anyway."
Another plus: "Ever since I was able to use my laptop, my book bag became a lot lighter," says sophomore Zachary Stevens, 15, sliding his computer into his bag after checking his homework file to make sure he has finished it all.
As the school's instructional technology specialist, Samuel Parisi gets to oversee the project. He says the goal is not only to make the teens more comfortable in the school by letting them use their high-tech tools, but also to teach them how to better use what they have.
"What we're trying to do is give our students the skills they need to survive in the 21st century," Parisi says, sitting in his chilly office, surrounded by servers and screens. "There's a big difference between going on MySpace and learning how to research properly on a computer. We want to help them get there."
Bonti hired teachers with that goal in mind. Hence the fact that about 85 percent have blogs, and even more post assignments online and accept e-mailed work.
As the open campus concept expands, Parisi says, the school will offer even more lessons on efficient computer research and other educational uses. It also expects to have all textbooks online.
Science teacher Jill Hrovoski is riding the wave with her students. Four of her anatomy students already use their laptops, and she looks forward to seeing that number grow. A first-year teacher, Hrovoski relies on her laptop, too, using it to quickly find answers to student questions that, a generation ago, would have gotten a "Let me look that up" and, maybe, a response days or weeks later.
"It's something that is pretty exciting," she says between classes. "They're really excited and respectful to have it."
The school's wireless hot spots go fully live next week. If the concept works at Wiregrass Ranch, it could spread to other county high schools, where the district technology department is working to upgrade the computer networks.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.