With the help of funding for schools affected by Hurricane Katrina and reward money for rising test scores, a Louisiana high school this fall will become one of the first in the state to dump textbooks in favor of laptop computers and an all-digital curriculum.

Students at Bolton High School, part of the Rapides Parish school system, won’t be carrying around textbooks and paper notebooks, but instead will have laptop computers as part of the parish’s first Digital Academy.

“This is on the cutting edge, not only for our parish but also the state,” Bolton High School Principal Bill Higgins said. “This is the wave of the future. We are excited to be able to offer this to our students.”

Students in Bolton’s gifted program, plus all 11th-graders and the majority of its seniors, won’t be issued textbooks but will be given an Apple iMac computer on the first day of school. The students will be allowed to take the computers home.

“We are immersing the curriculum in technology,” Higgins said.

Fifteen-year-old Eric Pantallion said he is excited about the laptop computers. “It is much easier to use a computer than textbooks,” the 10th-grader said.

Already, students like Pantallion are getting lessons on using a Macintosh.

Bolton High has two technology facilitators who are taking 30 of the laptop computers to various classes, giving students a taste of what they will experience next year.

Barbara Gourgues had the mobile lab and facilitators in her civics class last week. She said the students loved using the computers.

The school is using two grants and state reward money to pay for the new program. It received 160 laptop computers from the Virtue Foundation, which has helped schools affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and has given out 600 computers across the state, school officials said. A Louisiana High Tech grant, as well as money the school expects to receive because of growth in its school performance score, also will help fund the Digital Academy.

“Without the grant money, this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Bill Morrison, technology director for the school district.

To prepare for the Digital Academy, Bolton High will become wireless so students can receive internet service as far out as the football field, Higgins said.

The school is converting an old typing classroom into an internet cafe that will be open later in the afternoon, so students who do not have internet access at home can get work and studying done.

In addition, the students will be able to use “hot spots” throughout the community to get online, Higgins said.

The online curriculum is in the planning stages, and Morrison said the implementation of the Digital Academy gives the school a chance to update its curriculum.

Higgins said teachers will be able to grade assignments and return the graded material online. Students can turn in work online, and classes will be able to include such activities as online experiments.

Teachers in the Digital Academy will receive laptop computers and projectors for their classrooms. The computers will be maintained and repaired on campus, so that if a student has a problem with one, he or she will simply turn it in and be issued another.

In going all-digital, Bolton High School will follow the lead of pioneering institutions such as Arizona’s Empire High School, part of the Vail School District, which dumped textbook in favor of laptops in 2005. Early on in that project, students and teachers said they didn’t seem to miss toting textbooks around.

Schools typically overlay computers onto their instruction “like frosting on the cake,” said Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker, a 2006 winner of eSchool News‘ Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards. “We decided that the real opportunity was to make the laptops the key ingredient of the cake … to truly change the way that schools operated.”

Links:

Rapides Parish Schools
http://www.rapides.k12.la.us

“Momentum builds on e-books” (eSN Online, November 2006)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=6707

“All-digital school passes first test” (eSN Online, August 2005)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5828

“New Catholic high school goes all-digital” (eSN Online, August 2005)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5830

“Textbooks give way to digital curriculum” (eSN Online, July 2005)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5781

“Textbooks dumped in favor of laptops” (eSN Online, September 2004)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5270