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Chaparral Elementary Students Carry Laptops to School This Fall

October 2001

Ladera Ranch, CA-- On September 6, Southern California parents in this wired community sent their children back to school at Chaparral Elementary pulling backpacks loaded with laptop computers. Principal Kevin Rafferty recommended that parents purchase iBook computers for 3rd through 5th graders and more than 80 out 175 parents said yes.

A Model Program
Michelle Wrenn Benham, Director of Instructional Technology, Capistrano Unified School District, first learned about laptop education programs at a conference in Seattle, Washington. She looked for the right school and community to model a program in her district. Located in Orange County, California, Capistrano Unified has 34 elementary, 8 middle, and 5 high schools plus one continuation school.

"We're trying to promote a love of learning and motivation," says Benham. "Students write more and they write better with their own laptops. They are more enthusiastic about school."
Chaparral opened this fall in Ladera Ranch, a planned community of wired homes. Benham saw an opportunity for the school to support the community vision of high tech communications and learning. Principal Rafferty volunteered to lead the effort at the new school with the hope of seeing the program extend to middle and high schools as students matriculate.

Standards for All
A team from the district and school spent 10 months planning a program that was consistent with district goals and objectives, state standards, and infused with technology. They developed curriculum lessons, created policies, and shared the plan with the community. Students have options for presenting information with traditional paper and pen methods or electronic media.

"The students have the same learning objectives as all 3-5 grade students in the district," says Rafferty. "The district also has technology objectives and it's the same for everybody. At Chaparral, we're simply using laptops as a natural tool integrated into the curriculum."

The teachers were hand-picked for Chaparral, based on their comfort with technology and willingness to learn. They attended a full-day training session to cover the essentials of classroom management and technology use. The PE schedule allows half of the teachers to attend a half-hour training each day so they can learn and share new strategies for using computers and laptops.

Preparing for Laptop Learning
The school installed a network with wireless hubs to provide anywhere access to the Internet and to servers where students can store work. Parents borrow software licenses from the school so that each laptop is equipped with the same version of applications. A technology aide troubleshoots problems. If they can't be solved in 15 minutes, the laptop hard drive is wiped clean and the standard school configuration reloaded. Every classroom has extra computers for students without laptops.

The district provides each school with network equipment and servers as a standard part of the curriculum. Benham estimates that the cost to achieve a 2 to 1 student to computer ratio with parents purchasing laptops will cost the district an additional $10,000-$15,000 to provide the wireless network, training, software, and additional servers.

Involved Parents
A successful laptop program requires the support of parents and teachers to help children learn how to protect and use these expensive tools. Principal Rafferty and Benham organized back-to-school nights where parents learned about the computers (many use Windows-based computers rather than Macintosh), and the importance of rolling backpacks, insurance, and reinforcing appropriate behavior. Since school began, several parents have asked the principal if they can still join and bring in laptops (yes, of course!).

"When we reviewed programs in other communities, we learned that they always grow," says Benham. "At first, there are a lot of skeptics. The children take to laptops like ducks to water, they're fine. If you support staff with training and provide time for parents to get involved the program will grow."

Chaparral expects to see significant gains in reading test scores on the Stanford 9 and CORE level testing and in student communication skills assessed by teachers and other qualitative measures. By proving the learning advantage of students with 24/7 access to information, Benham expects to attract funds to spread the model to other schools in the district.