Tech initiative keeps students connected

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Texico students Shelby Miller, left, Colton Hollis, middle, and Margarita Garcia work on an assignment in Libby Peabody’s seventh-grade English class on laptops provided by the state’s laptop initiative program.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Libby Peabody’s class is also her tech-support department.

When the seventh-grade Texico teacher has a problem with her computer, she turns to her students first before going to a specialist.

She said her students are more tech savvy than she is because they use computers for most of their classes as part of the governor’s four-year-old laptop initiative program.

“Being more computer savvy is going to help them in their future. I don’t think (computers) are going away,” said Peabody, who at first thought the laptops would be a distraction more than a learning tool.

The program is designed to make students computer literate by having them use computers in almost every part of their school work, according to Texico Junior High School Principal Wayne Anderson. He said the Portales school district also participates in the program.

He said the program gives students in rural areas who would not have access to a computer at home a level playing field to use computers daily.

The program gives seventh-grade students a laptop they use throughout high school. The Texico school district qualified for the program four years ago and has received about 190 computers since, according to Anderson. The computers belong to the school district.

About 16 school districts in the state participate in the program, according to Public Education Department Public Information Officer Danielle Montoya. In the last four years she said about 5,000 students received laptops. For the 2008 fiscal year, the state has set aside about $1.5 million for the program.

The program does not have benchmarks or standards to see if the students are more computer literate, according to Montoya.

But Anderson said the program is teaching students to turn in finished products.

“In a tech society, handwritten stuff is not acceptable,” he said.

Seventh grader Shay Harrison said he likes using computers in class.

“I think it’s easier to type stuff than to write it,” said Harrison, who stared at the screen of his IBM Thinkpad as he worked on answering questions about a passage he read for Peabody’s class.

Peabody said her students are assigned more research papers and reports. She said the students can go online to do their research during class through the school’s wireless Internet service.

“That’s a big help, because it takes time to do research,” said Peabody.

Teacher Brenda Logan said aside from research papers, the students also make slideshow presentations and graphs through a spreadsheet program.

She said having the Internet at hand helps her class better understand what she’s teaching.
She said she once had her class go online and look for a picture of a particular insect.

“It’s a teacher’s dream. In the old days you had paper and pen, now you have the whole Internet,” said Logan who encouraged her class to use their computers for the science fair.

Anderson said the students are given rules to follow so they aren’t distracted by the computers. The computers also have a feature that shuts it down if the students go to inappropriate Web sites, and only Anderson has the codes to turn it on again.

Aside from computer literacy, Anderson said the program teaches students responsibility.

“That’s a big step to hand a kid a $1,000 computer when before, they were only responsible for a $30 textbook,” he said.