All incoming Maine Township High School District 207 freshman and sophomore students must purchase Google Chromebooks from the district as part of a new program that will eventually eliminate the need for physical textbooks in the classroom, officials said.
The District 207 school board approved the purchase of 3,350 Chromebooks for the 2013-2014 academic year at a cost of just over $1 million at this month's board meeting. The program will be implemented at the district's three high schools -- Maine West, Maine East and Maine South.
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Each student will pay $319 for a Chromebook, with the option of purchasing insurance. Juniors and seniors will be able to purchase Chromebooks the following school year. Over a four-year period, students would save an estimated $225 over the cost of purchasing textbooks, according to a district presentation.
"Instead of filling their backpacks with expensive, heavy, print textbooks, freshman and sophomore students will instead purchase a lightweight Chromebook computer along with electronic books for select courses," District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace said in a letter to parents on the district's website. "This shift will save families hundreds of dollars during the four years of high school, while providing access to the digital world of resources."
Students will be able to access digital versions of some textbooks on the Chromebook, though not all as yet. That is expected to change in a few years when all textbooks should be available cheaper online, District 207 spokesman David Beery said.
"The thing that enabled us and prompted us to go ahead and do this at this point is the cost of some online textbooks has come down enough to make this cost effective, and in fact to save families money over the course of four years," Beery said. "Earlier, the cost of online textbooks was so close to the hard-bound volumes that we couldn't justify the initial cost of the Chromebooks. I'm not sure how long it will take for textbooks to be replaced entirely, but that's certainly the direction we're all heading."
Families will have the option of paying a lump sum or making four payments over the course of the school year for the computers.
"There is assistance available for (low-income) families that qualify under the free and reduced lunch guidelines," Beery said.
Students who are eligible under the state's free and reduced-price meal guidelines will receive Chromebooks at no cost to the student's family. The district will pay for those computers, just as it now pays for textbooks for eligible students, Beery said.
The percentage of students considered low-income is 34 percent at Maine West, 45 percent at Maine East and 8 percent at Maine South.
While high-tech gadgets are becoming more commonplace in suburban classrooms, District 207's approach is somewhat different from other school districts that are providing iPads and laptop computers to students on the taxpayers' dime.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 is giving fourth-generation Apple iPads to roughly 7,000 students next school year, and hopes to expand the program to include every student by the 2014-15 school year.
Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire also is considering distributing iPads to all students by 2015. Every incoming freshman could get one starting with the 2013-14 school year.
Meanwhile, Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein gave Lenovo ThinkPad tablets and accessories for classroom and home use to more than 1,300 students at the start of the 2012-13 term. Gurnee Elementary District 56's 2,250 students will start using iPads by late February. And, Carol Stream Elementary District 93 plans to have its 4,000 students using personal iPad or MacBook Air laptop computers by 2015.
District 207 will be spending $218,342 in the first year of the program out of its technology funds even after the fee charged to students for the Chromebooks, officials said.
The district already has invested money into increasing the wireless capacity at its schools, Beery said.
Beery said the advantage for District 207 students is that they will be able to keep their Chromebooks once purchased, and use it anywhere, even outside the classroom.
"It's web-based content," Beery said. "They will be able to do work anywhere there's Wi-Fi. It's tremendous mobility for them. There are a lot of educational resources online and on the Cloud now, and that's only going to increase in future years."
Students will be able to use YouTube as a tool and have the ability to make and edit their own videos. Each Chromebook is equipped with a graphing calculator similar to what students currently use in the classroom. Most classroom work will be done with Google Docs, through which students can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and share files on the Internet. Teachers will be able to use Google Docs to create homework assignments and quizzes, and keep track of students' work.
"Our school has very much become a Google environment," Beery said referring to the increasing use of Google tools in the classroom. "There certainly will be some training and learning for teachers and students alike."
The district has about 400 Chromebooks being used in classrooms this year on a trial basis.
To hear District 207 officials explain their decision to purchase Chromebooks, visit http://tinyurl.com/207chromebooks. For questions about the program, visit http://tinyurl.com/207chromeFAQ and leave a question to be answered by district staff.