Soon, Sealy High Schoolers will be able type up and submit reports or turn in college applications from home, wherever that may be and regardless of whether or not they own a computer.
This fall, Sealy ISD was able to purchase 200 Samsung Chromebook laptops with cellular 3G connections with a $100,000 Technology Lending Program Grant. The grant, created by Senate Bill 6, 32.201, was created to help schools with economically disadvantaged students get access to personal technology.
The Chromebooks are part of the district’s goal to integrate technology into the curriculum and make sure that students know how to use the tools they will need for college and the job market, regardless of socio-economic standing.
The devices have been engraved and bar coded, and as soon as computer bags arrive Sealy High School will start lending them to students, according to principal Megan Oliver on Tuesday.
Eligibility for the grant required that districts have at least 40 percent of its enrollment listed as economically disadvantaged. TEA characterizes economically disadvantaged as “those eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Program, or other public assistance.”
Sealy reports 65 percent of its enrollment as economically disadvantaged, which is probably a big reason why they got the grant, said Owen Hurt, personnel, testing and grant director, at a previous school board meeting.
In a school survey in May, less than 40 percent of the students that participated said they owned a laptop or netbook.
Availability of access is another issue. In Sealy, free Wi-Fi is available at the Gordon Memorial Library, along with a few computers open Monday through Thursday, and at McDonalds and the Sealy Little League Park.
“For students who live outside of the city limits and do not have their own transportation, accessing any available free Wi-Fi services can be difficult,” according to the district's application.
But all students, no matter their economic standing, will have access to technology at Sealy High School.
The Chromebooks were chosen, rather than a tablet, because it will provide students with a full keyboard and also comes with access to the Google Chrome Store for free academic Apps and Google Apps, which students can use to collaborate on documents and save them to the system’s cloud, rather than a flash drive.
As far as device protection goes, students will sign school policies acknowledging that they are responsible for the Chromebook when they have it checked out, similar to when they check out hundreds of dollars worth of textbooks.
Each one is engraved with inventory IDs and will also have a protective case.
Online, only Sealy students with district log-ins will be able to use the laptops. And Internet connection is through the heavily filtered Sealy ISD server that blocks inappropriate and social sites like Facebook or YouTube.
Even if another sibling or family member tries to log on with the student’s ID, they will only have access to research and academic programs online.
Much has also been put into the process of teachers organizing use of the Chromebooks for classes ahead of time and training teachers how to incorporate the new laptops, along with mobile computer labs the school already owns, into the classroom.
Tammy Leimer, technology director, found the grant and will work to communicate regularly with the high school principal on how to best serve the students and teachers with the new resources.
Leimer also organized the wireless infrastructure at Sealy High School, a $25,000 investment, as part of the Bring Your Own Technology program being piloted this fall.
As soon as the Chromebooks are ready for use, students will get to see a video show during announcements going over the lending process and the responsible use policy.
Online surveys on use of the Chromebooks will be given to students, parents and teachers at the end of each semester, and at anytime they can go to the district’s website and submit feedback.