More kids can take school-issued computers home

By Bobby Bryant, Editor,

Thousands more students attending Darlington County public schools will be allowed to take home their school-issued computers starting this fall.

Until now, only students in grades 9-12 were able to take their school-issued laptop computers home with them. Under a new plan approved July 8 by the county school board, students in grades 3-8 also will be allowed to take home iPads issued to them by the school district.

Kids in grades 3-8 will be required to pay the district $20 a year to cover possible damage to iPads owned by the district. High-school students must pay $50 a year for insurance coverage on their school-issued laptops.

It’s part of the district’s “eLearning” plan covering how students can use school-owned computers at home and explaining what rules have to be followed.

The district has produced a 30-page “eLearning” handbook compiling the rules on home use of computers and including forms that must be signed by parents and students. The handbook also will be available online.

Officials said much of this material has gone out to parents and students before at various times, but the handbook puts it all in one place.

Every student had been assigned a computer of one kind or another by the school district, but for most grades, the devices have had to stay behind when students went home for the day, said Diane Sigmon, executive director of technology for the Darlington County School District.

The handbook spells out exactly what is expected of students taking school-owned computers home and what is expected of parents supervising them. One piece of advice for those in grades 3-8: “Only allow Internet use in common rooms of the home (e.g. living room or kitchen) and not in bedrooms. Demonstrate a genuine interest in what your student is doing while online. Ask questions and request that they show you (their) work often.”

The handbook forbids “inappropriate content,” which includes alcohol, tobacco or drugs; gangs; obscene language or nudity; bullying or harassment; and discriminatory or prejudicial behavior. It advises students not to eat or drink while using school-issued computers.

The school district has asked the state Education Department for permission to let it use computers for “eLearning days” when bad weather forces officials to cancel school. That would help avoid the need for make-up days.

“The goal is to keep students learning, even when the weather is inevitable,” the district says. “An eLearning day is very similar to a normal school day.”

Sigmon said she expects the state to approve the district’s request to allow teaching at home, via computer, during weather that’s bad enough to cancel school.

During the school board’s meeting last week, Sigmon also gave the board a report on the school district’s participation in the recent International Society for Technology in Education’s conference in Philadelphia.

Sigmon said the ISTE cited the Darlington County School District as an example of what schools are doing in terms of technology in the classroom. She said the huge event – with an estimated 20,000 participants from all 50 states and 81 countries — put the district on an international stage.

“It put us on the map,” Sigmon said.

Staying home, but going to school anyway

The Darlington County School District has asked the state Education Department to let it use “eLearning” when bad weather forces local schools to close.

What does that mean? It means students would do lessons from home, by computer, even if a winter storm or a hurricane has shut down county schools.

Assuming the state OKs the district’s plan, here’s how it all would work. This information is from an “eLearning” handbook the district has produced.

“Our No. 1 goal with eLearning is to make sure your student continues to learn and is safe from the hazards of inclement weather,” the handbook says. “With a new process, there will be many things your student can share about their learning and demonstrate success, but there will also be some areas of improvement for the whole system.

“When students return to school, there will be an opportunity for the home and students to share strengths and (what) needs improvement about the eLearning Day.”

The handbook says that before leaving the building, “students will receive the necessary resources to complete their work at home. … If students do not have the Internet, they can still complete the eLesson(s), and upload/sync their work when they return to school.”

Students in grades K-2 would be given an “activity packet” to complete from home, since those students are not allowed to take home school-issued computers.

Students in grades 3-5 would be given 50-minute lessons to complete from home in subjects like math, science and social studies.

Middle-school students would be given one-hour lessons from their “core teachers” in subjects like the ones above.

High-school students would get a one-hour lesson, per day, from each of their teachers. The material would be posted online.

Teachers would be available throughout the day via “virtual office hours,” the handbook says.

The handbook notes that during such school-from-home days, students would not be on vacation.

Students would be expected to do the work assigned them. Students would have five school days to “complete their make-up work,” the handbook says, and anyone who fails to turn in assignments given them on bad-weather days would be listed as absent.

— Bobby Bryant

Author: Rachel Howell

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