Plum High School students get new Chromebooks as part of district initiative

October 6, 2018
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Plum high school students received their own individual Chromebooks this past week, as part of the district’s one-to-one program, giving every student in the district access to technology. Akil Washington, a junior at PHS, receives his new Chromebook from Daniel Lauletta, director of eductional technology, at the Thursday, October 4 distribution night. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review

Plum High School students were to receive their own individual Chromebook this month as part of the district’s one-to-one initiative.

Laptops were given to seniors and juniors one week, sophomores and freshman the following week.

Administrators said the goal is to give every student access to technology.

Sixth- through eighth-graders received iPads earlier this school year.

“We’re really meeting students where they’re at in our digital world,” said Daniel Lauletta, district director of technology. “They’re digital citizens. They have a device in their hands at all times.

“This is us trying to teach them to use that device as a tool, and not so much as a toy.”

For senior Allie Blackwell, the opportunity could not have come soon enough.

“We used to have these old laptops; they weren’t working very well,” she said. “We had those in the library and used to have desktops. Then it all got shortened down to MacBooks.

“This helps a lot if you can’t go to the library or there’s not enough passes. We all get our own laptops to work on stuff.”

Parents had to sign agreements with the district for the laptops, which cost about $200 each. They were distributed at no cost to families.

Parents can opt in to an insurance plan for the devices. It’s $30 through Nov. 1 and $35 after that. The insurance covers damages and breaks and makes replacements quicker.

“I have two other kids in college,” said Allie’s father, Patrick Blackwell. “Everything’s increasingly digital. The sooner they transfer to this in the high school, the better off kids will be prepared for college and the workforce.”

Senior Joseph Benton, who’s studying construction at Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, said he didn’t have a laptop before and would have to go to the tech school to finish any work he couldn’t do at the high school.

“It will help if I need to search for information or do a document and papers,” Joseph said. “It will definitely help a lot.”

The Chromebooks are black, HP11 G5 EE educational models and cost about $196 each.

Lauletta said about 1,250 were obtained. They include multiple safety measures to protect and monitor student usage.

The devices have ID numbers for each student and can’t be accessed without a pbsd.net email and password.

Software called Bark and Lightspeed Relay flag keywords and block offensive content.

The programs also allow parental controls and give options for weekly reports.

District administrators can use a location program to find the device if it’s lost or stolen.

Teachers can restrict websites, as well. For example, if a lesson calls for the student to visit a specific website, it will be the only one students can access during class.

The one-to-one initiative is, in part, a byproduct of a push in STEAM education by former high school Principal Justin Stephans and technology director Chris Burkey. STEAM stands for science, technology, education, arts and mathematics.

The pair pitched the Chromebooks idea to the school board in July.

Lauletta, who facilitated a one-to-one program at his former school district, Deer Lakes, said he worked with Burkey to bring the initiative to Plum.

“It’s the same exact thing,” Lauletta said. “It was districtwide, K-12. You’re enhancing the curriculum with the technology in the classroom and preparing the student for what’s coming after public education. Every school district’s trying to do it.”

Oblock Principal Joe Fishell recently was promoted to the high school to replace Stephans, who left to take the same job at Gateway High School.

Fishell saw firsthand how having technology available for students can benefit them educationally the past few years as middle-schoolers used iPads.

“It’s a tremendous tool,” he said. “The teachers use the iPad in daily instruction. They use it as a hall pass. They use it to send the kid home with a project, submit it online and the teacher can look at it there. I think the Chromebooks make learning more interactive. They’re able to be more engaged with what’s going on in the classroom.”

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