Laptop computer program boots up at Fox River

Seventh-grade textbooks are history at Waterford Middle School

By Julie Rossman


In what is likely a sign of things to come in education, Fox River Middle School has taken a step toward becoming more “green” while it also prepares students to compete in a global, digital society.

Each seventh-grader received a laptop at the beginning of this school year, to be used through 8th grade and hopefully even through high school.

Fox River Principal Darlene Markle said that so far the new program is going well.

“The kids are loving it,” she said. And most parents also seem happy with the program, Markle notes.

There have been minimal issues at home, Markle said, and during a recent parent listening session, parental input was quite positive.  “It was very collaborative, very positive feedback,” she said.

Twenty-seven parents attended that meeting, where Markle heard comments such as: “what a progressive district!” and “my child is excited.”

Some parents even asked for more training for themselves so they are better able to help their children, while other parents discussed how the laptops will transition to high school.

Two additional parent listening sessions are scheduled at Fox River School regarding the laptop program on Mondays, Oct. 17 and Nov. 28.  Sessions on both dates will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Markle said that in these times of school budget cuts, she believes the laptop program is “absolutely” worth it.

She explained that the school was able to allocate items in the budget differently and also noted a huge savings in paper, as all textbooks and assignments are now on the computer.  “There’s no need to purchase text books,” Markle said.

Markle also likes that the laptops are teaching students 21st century skills like organization, communication, research, collaboration and critical thinking.

Markle said the new program has provided for a huge shift at the school in both instruction and in learning.

The laptop program has been in the planning stages since 2008, she said, and the staff has undergone a lot of training.

“They are adapting just fine,” Markle said of the staff, adding: “It’s a different way of learning – the laptop is just a tool.”

Markle said she likes how the computers provide for learner-based instruction, where students can learn the way that best works for them.

“It allows for differentiation in learning – the students are in charge,” Markle explained.

Overall, seventh-grader Cassie Barwick said she likes the new system.  For one thing, Cassie says her backpack is not so heavy, as there are no more textbooks to carry around.

And if she’s out sick, Cassie can get assignments on the on-line calendar, making it easy to complete missed homework.

Cassie says it’s easy to communicate with teachers and fellow classmates about questions on homework via e-mail or instant messaging.

During class, teachers have gone to the Internet for assistance in instruction.

In her Spanish class, for example, Cassie’s classmates watch an online YouTube video every day of a woman singing a song about all of the Spanish-speaking countries and capitols.

On the downside, Cassie says there are a lot of usernames and passwords to remember and sometimes the Internet is slow.

Cassie’s mother, Nancy Barwick, said she likes how the laptop keeps her daughter better connected to her classes and assignments.

“It’s a closer communication tool – more immediate,” Barwick said.  The laptops also teach students more responsibility and help groom them for college, she added.

There have been a few glitches with logging on to the Internet, Barwick said, but once all the bugs are worked out, she feels things will flow better.

“Hats off to the district for being progressive,” Barwick said.

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