The devices were delivered and preparation began this week for a middle school learning initiative in Hawthorn Elementary District 73.

About 25 parents, staff members and others Wednesday unpacked, assembled and categorized about 1,500 Dell Chromebooks that will be distributed to every sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader in the Vernon Hills-based district's two middle schools.

Middle school students have been using Chromebooks and other devices, but they were shared, and teachers have had to reserve them for projects or other uses. That will change with the new school year beginning in August, as each middle-schooler will be equipped with a Chromebook and allowed to take it home.

The volunteer session Wednesday was to ensure the devices were organized and tagged so they could be handed over to students.

"They have not had the opportunity, unless it's a special circumstance, to take the device home," said Lisa Cerauli, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "We really believe this will change things for a lot of our kids."

The buzzword for the practice is 1:1 personalized learning, but there is more to the initiative, Cerauli said.

"It's a lot more about the learning aspect and less about the devices they have," she said. "It's to make sure kids are collaborating."

Having the device will level the playing field for all students and is intended to engage them in the learning process. Devices are regarded as a tool to extend learning and collaboration, but there has to be a balance and students won't be expected to be "in class" 24/7, officials say.

"It's making sure the work outside (the classroom) is meaningful and making sure everybody can do it," Cerauli said. "Our goal is to make sure the work is personal and meaningful -- in other words at their level."

The school board last fall approved the acquisition of the Chromebooks and an increase in fees to $100 from $35 per student to help pay for them.

To accommodate the 1:1 program and for general operations, including a new phone system, the district spent considerable time preparing in other ways.

"It was a little over a two-year process. We really, completely revamped the district's infrastructure," said Dmitry Andrievsky, technology director.

That included replacing all switching systems providing data and power, and providing wireless capability in every classroom rather than in selected spots, he said.

Equipping each middle school student will allow the district to repurpose computer labs to classrooms and provide more general space, which has been a concern as district enrollment continues to increase.