One-to-one device plan takes first steps

Woodland Regional High School sophomore Jeffrey Varesio uses his Chromebook during class March 20 at the school in Beacon Falls. Region 16 gave freshmen and sophomores their own Chromebooks as part of the new one-to-one initiative. –KATIE MINUTILLO

BEACON FALLS — Whether it’s English, science, or social studies class, Woodland Regional High School students are taking full advantage of the technological opportunity provided by Region 16’s new one-to-one initiative.

Over 300 freshmen and sophomores received their personalized Chromebooks on Feb. 24 as the district rolled out the initiative. According to officials, as of last week there was 99 percent participation among the 334 freshmen and sophomores.

“There was no chaos with the deployment, it was a very smooth transition,” said Ogren, who credited the school’s “tech team,” which includes staff members James Amato, Matthew Brennan, Deb Conte, Jodi D’Alexander, Kate Smith, and Michael Illian as well as student volunteers, for helping the rollout run smoothly.

The one-to-one initiative aims to provide all students in grades six through 12 in the district with their own Chromebook to use in class. The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, has approved a three-year plan to phase in the initiative.

Officials estimate the three-year plan will cost $377,119. The estimate doesn’t include the roughly $108,000 already spent on the Chromebooks that were given out in February. Starting in the 2019-20 school year, the program’s annual cost is projected to be $196,672, according to the plan.

Freshmen and sophomores received their Chromebooks in accordance with the first phase of the plan. Over the next two school years, incoming freshmen will receive a Chromebook and Long River Middle School students will have access to new and existing district-owned devices in school. All incoming freshmen from now on will get their own Chromebook.

High school students will keep their Chromebooks upon graduation, but the Chromebooks used by middle school students will remain at the school. The only cost for high school students is $30 for insurance, if they choose to get it.

In anticipation of the program’s rollout at the high school, more wireless internet access points were installed across the building to accommodate the new Chromebooks.

Brennan, who is the director of technology for the district, said the electronic signup system used for collecting forms and protection plan payments was very successful, and he hopes to see it expand to other areas within the region.

“I’m very pleased with the rollout so far,” Brennan said. “I think it speaks to the preparation that was done by the technology department as well as the faculty in advance of the handout.”

Ogren believes the timing for the rollout was perfect since teachers recently attended a professional development session to learn more about using the Chromebooks.

“The first time you do anything you are not exactly sure what to expect, but it worked the way we wanted it to,” Ogren said.

He added the students seem content and proud to own their own Chromebook.

Students are required to follow two rules: keep their Chromebook it in its case at all times to help prevent it from breaking and charge it at home. Ogren noted the students have been following these rules, so far.

Ogren said he has observed several classrooms where Chromebooks were being used and found it interesting to see them utilized in a variety of disciplines.

Although students are familiar with the technology, freshman Isabella Fabrizi said it has changed classroom instruction.

In many classes, she finds that students are more likely to type out their assignments instead of handing them in on paper, she said. Teachers have also started posting tests and quizzes online on Schoology, the region’s learning management system.

“It is what I expected,” Fabrizi said. “I expected it would be another learning tool I would use in school except that I would be using it much more for homework instead of my normal computers and laptop at home.”