Pennsylvania school goes ‘paperless’—fells costs, not trees

For years, advocates of technology have heralded the day when all correspondence will occur electronically, eliminating the need for paper communications. So far, that day has not arrived. But a high school in Pennsylvania is doing its best to change that—and saving money in the process.

Hatboro-Horsham High School recently switched to a paperless curriculum, in which tests, worksheets, assignments, and announcements are accessible to students on the school-wide computer network. The students still have their notebooks and textbooks, but worksheets and handouts are things of the past.

The decision to go paperless might make Hatboro-Horsham one of the first schools in the country to implement such a policy.

“Computers were always intended to cut down on the amount of paper used. The idea of using less paper was just not realized, because it’s so easy to hit ‘print,'” said computer science teacher Ed Sherretta.

The school’s computer and business classes went almost completely worksheet-free this past spring, at the request of several students and teachers. Students had complained about the amount of waste paper the classes generated, so they worked with instructors to use the school’s technology to cut down on wasted paper. School officials estimate that each of the 20 classes used nearly 500 sheets of paper a week.

Carol Miller, head of the business and computer department, said students in her classes send and receive most of their work through the school’s internal network. Miller said the transition to a paperless system was not too difficult for students or teachers, because the school’s intranet was already set up and readily accessible.

In the new system, reports are sent to teachers’ in-boxes, and critiques are forwarded back to students’ workstations. Floppy disks are uncommon, because everyone has access to information via the school’s intranet.

According to students, the change was welcome. “You don’t realize how much paper you’re using,” said junior Ken Corbo. “Usually, you write a report, print it up and edit it, print it again and edit it, and print it again. You can save so much just by reading and making changes on screen.”

Junior Brad Johnston said the changes have not been too tough to keep up with, and he still gets his assignments done, even without printed reminders. “Announcements that come over the computers are pretty easy to see,” he said.

The movement has inspired similar conservation efforts throughout the high school. Teachers now receive their morning bulletins electronically, which saves nearly 1,000 sheets of paper each week. A pilot group of administrators has switched its paper supply orders and disciplinary referral forms to computerized versions, and that plan might be adopted district-wide this fall.

“I think it has been a goal of our technology plan to find paperless solutions,” Sherretta said. “All teachers in our district have a laptop. In the high schools, that means we have 120 teachers who can contact each other through eMail.”

He added that every student in his class still has the option of hard copies for their work, but the students usually are comfortable with the paperless assignments.

“There is no way we can say to these kids, ‘You can’t print anything out,’ but we can raise their awareness,” he said. “The goal is to try and become more environmentally conscious, not just to eliminate paper.”

Sherretta is working on a paperless system for discipline and attendance referrals. Until now, school officials and educators have had to fill out forms in triplicate and place them on the desks of the people who need the forms.

“What I’m working on is an intranet-based form that can be sent directly to whoever needs it. This way, teachers, guidance counselors, and principals can simply access the form through the electronic database,” he said.

According to Sherretta, the system appears to be running fairly smoothly. He said he has heard few complaints from students, but he’s found it a bit more difficult to persuade older teachers to adopt new teaching methods.

“Students generally handle the idea of paperlessness even better than teachers and administrators,” he said. Still, when he helped introduce the new online disciplinary procedure in May, most teachers seemed willing to try something new.

The discipline referral program already has been tested with 50 Hatboro-Horsham teachers, Sherretta said. “Right now, I’m tweaking it so it writes directly to the database, and we are working on designing a query function for the database,” he said.

Paperless schools are not as hard to implement as some educators might fear, Sherretta said: “Really, all you need is a network. Beyond that, everything you need can be designed to fit what your school is looking for.”

Hatboro-Horsham School District

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