In what may be the largest deployment yet of laptop computers in schools, thousands of Henrico County, Va., students will have one more book to tote around next year: an Apple iBook portable computer.

As part of a four-year, $18.5 million technology initiative, Henrico school officials are leasing 23,000 laptop computers from Apple Computer for all middle and high school students and teachers.

“This is mammoth–the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever,” said Apple’s chief executive officer, Steve Jobs.

Henrico Superintendent Mark A. Edwards announced the agreement May 2. Following the announcement, district officials met with teachers at Varina High School to introduce the new technology program and to hand out iBooks.

“The students now are the generation of digital learners. They will have access to a wealth of knowledge,” said Edwards. “This is the direction that everyone will be going in the near future.”

This fall, students in grades nine through 12 will receive the 2001 version of Apple’s iBook (see Product Spotlight, page 62), and grades seven and eight will have access in 2002. In the third year, all sixth-graders will receive computers. The district has already started handing computers out to high school teachers.

“There will be an option to buy after the four-year lease is up, at a very significant discount, of course,” said district spokeswoman Janet Binns.

The laptops will enable students to use approved educational applications, as well as burn music CDs, watch DVD movies, and browse the internet.

Henrico County plans to use the iBooks in conjunction with textbooks. “We have no plans to do away with textbooks,” said Binns. “We are going to merge the two and use a new variety of information sources in our curriculum.”

The district is installing wireless data ports in its buildings, as well as stations where students can charge their laptops at school, though they’ll be responsible for charging them at night.

Students will be encouraged to take their iBooks home at night, and Apple will provide them with a special after-hours help line.

“We are asking each parent to pay up to $50 per year on insurance on the laptop– which covers loss, theft, and damage,” said Binns.

Carole Givens teaches U.S. History at Varina High School and was one of the first educators to receive an iBook. One benefit of the laptops is the ability to do classroom management tasks from home, she said. Givens also said she believes the iBooks will help attract new teachers to the district.

“It’s going to be incredible to bring so many resources from the internet right to the fingertips of the children,” she said. “For instance, they can pull up [Thomas Paine’s treatise] Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence, and they can compare the documents right there at their desks.”

Teachers will undergo computer training this summer, and Binns said the staff development component is extensive. It includes three hours of on-site training for each teacher provided by Apple, a full-time technology trainer in every high school, and a full-time tech support person in each school.

The cost of the training and support comes out of the district’s staff development budget and is not part of the $18.5 million.

“There will also be the online Apple learning interchange and a toll-free support number,” Binns said. In addition, the district will provide training opportunities for parents.

Apple unveiled its new iBook laptop the same week it announced the Henrico deal, in a move the company hopes will boost its fading share of the education market.

“Some people have wondered if our commitment to education was as strong as it once was. I can assure you, if anything, it’s stronger,” Jobs said during a briefing with reporters.

Last year, Apple lost its lead to Dell Computer Corp. in overall sales in the education sector, though it ranks first with an 18 percent market share in the portable arena.

The Henrico County deal, which permits “total computer access” for students in the diverse school district, is designed to open up a world of information to children of every socioeconomic background.

“The students I teach are from very diverse backgrounds. Some live in federal projects, and others live in $700,000 homes along the James River,” said Givens. “This is really an equalizer.”

Henrico County Public Schools

Apple for Education