It may be the smallest school district in Mississippi, but after a recent infusion of more than $250,000 in new computers, equipment, and technology, Benoit School District is one of the most technologically advanced districts around.

At Ray Brooks School–the district’s only school–the sight of scores of Gateway computer boxes arriving this spring was not only a blessing for the school, but also a chance for the students to move into the 21st century.

Benoit Superintendent Suzanne Hawley said she was not only excited for the school district, but more important, for the students “who will use this new equipment to be even better students.”

Ray Brooks has an enrollment of 320 students in grades pre-K through nine.

The technology infusion was made possible through a $142,000 Technology Literacy Challenge Grant, another $97,000 in eRate money, and about $11,000 from the Benoit District Maintenance account.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to do the wiring and obtain internet access that we would otherwise not be able to do,” Hawley said.

The district could have done all this a lot sooner, said Hawley, but the school board wanted to maximize its dollars by waiting to have all the necessary funding in place so that everything could be done at one time, rather than with a piecemeal approach.

“Every classroom is wired. There are computers in every classroom from pre-K through sixth grade, and each teacher in the rooms has a teacher workstation and three student computers,” Hawley said.

The funding for the new technology helped provide teacher and student workstations and printers, network hardware, a file server, CD-ROM tower, multimedia cart, local area network setup, wiring, telephone lines and service, internet access, and instructional software applications.

Ann Clifton, the school district’s technology coordinator, is putting all this together and making sure it works.

The Gateway computer boxes had barely been lifted off the UPS truck when Clifton had teachers, staff, and students delivering the computers and equipment to preassigned locations.

In all, it took just under two hours before all the computers were hooked up and doing a test run.

“We had it all planned out so that when the computers came in, we knew right where to put them,” Clifton said.

Of course, with all the new technology, the school’s 25 certified teachers had to be trained on how to use it.

Some were apprehensive at first, Clifton said.

“We had three or four teachers that didn’t even want to touch the computers when they first got here,” Clifton said.

When it came to training the teachers and their classroom assistants, some eighth grade students were quick to jump in and help.

Far less fearful of the technology than some teachers, these students took charge of preparing a “how to” manual for the instructors.

Now, some of the same teachers who wanted nothing to do with the new technology “are begging for more computers in their classrooms,” Clifton said.

“This is really wonderful for the students, teachers, staff, and even the parents in the school district,” Hawley said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of here when it comes to technology. We’ve planned for the best, and we’re going to see that the best is provided to the students.”

And the community is bound to benefit as well.

With the new computers in place, some of the district’s older computers, no longer of much use in the school, are being loaned to families on a rotating basis, giving parents with little exposure to computers a chance to learn the basics.

The district will further its outreach activities after having been awarded a grant to launch a community computer program. The lab will help some of the area’s undereducated adults prepare to take the GED.