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Southold schools to provide more students with Chromebooks

Ryan Case

For the past two years, the Southold School District has provided many of its students with laptop computers — and teachers are hopeful the process will continue since the technology has provided enhanced learning opportunities.

Ryan Case, educational technology director at Southold and Greenport schools, gave a presentation at a Southold school board work session Wednesday night to outline the status of the district’s inventory of nearly 660 Google Chromebooks. The laptops are given to students in grades 4 through 11 and students are allowed to take them home.

“It’s absolutely positive,” high school English teacher Laura Kim Dooley said of the computers. “Now our students are having the opportunity — in a small school district — to write and to create and to think and to learn in the very environment of this 21st century.”

Superintendent David Gamberg said he invited Mr. Case to give a presentation, as well as five other educators, because the school board had requested an update on the district’s technology and English programs.

In 2012, the district launched a Bring Your Own Device program known as BYOD in which students were encouraged to bring their own laptops to school. A year later, the district purchased Chromebooks for students in grades 5 through 8.

Currently, 609 of the laptops are assigned to student and staff and eleven devices are kept in stock just in case one needs to be replaced. Forty-one Chromebooks are out of service and used for scrap pieces. Five of those broken devices were replaced by students for a total of $1,100. In addition, the district has collected fees for 109 broken screens totaling $1,170.

According to Mr. Case’s presentation, 32 laptops have been fixed under warranty and the district’s staff has fixed 148 computers in-house over the past two years.

In addition to Wednesday’s Chromebooks program update, teachers Melissa McBride and Mira Dougherty-Johnson discussed the connection between technology and literacy. Their presentation outlined “The Big Seven” steps needed to make sure a student is able to use technology adequately. One important step, they said, is understanding the benchmarks -— or what a student should be proficient in at what age.

JoEllen McCarthy, an education consultant hired by the district, gave a presentation about the writing workshops she collaborated on with Southold Elementary School teachers. The program stresses the importance of students working together and providing feedback on each other’s work in order to help fellow classmates improve their writing, she explained.

Seventh-grade English teacher Emilia Dakis also discussed the importance of hands-on learning opportunities when it comes to writing and grammar, as well as the need to foster a love of writing in students.

One way she does this is by asking students to choose sentences that share a common theme, such as commas, and look for similarities between them. She said this teaches children how to correctly understand the topic being discussed.

As for high school students, English teacher James Stahl presented complex writing examples done by juniors and seniors, including poetry, college essays, SAT prep, Regents prep, senior theses, interactive blog posts and more.

“Instead of a notebook where they’re writing and sharing with one other person, they have to post their blog and then have to respond to other peoples,” Mr. Stahl said. “And that’s a great thing because they can’t hide. It ups the ante as far as what they’re writing.”

When school board member Scott Latham asked the group of educators if the addition of Chromebooks has made an impact in their classrooms, the teachers in the audience gave a resoundingly positive response.

“I just love the tool,” said eighth-grade English teacher Jessica Ellwood. “I can have kids working on a writing assignment and pull up all their writing assignments and see it happening live. I can see their process. I can see what they’re correcting. I can see what they’re putting in color.”

The program is expected to expand next school year to provide seniors with Chromebooks. In addition, Mr. Gamberg said Wednesday’s discussion will “feed into” the ongoing discussion about next school year’s budget.

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Photo: Southold technology director Ryan Case gave a presentation about the district’s Chromebook inventory at Wednesday’s school board work session. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

CORRECTION: James Stahl’s name was originally misstated in this article.