Seventh-graders at Forest Park Middle School have had Chromebook laptop devices since they returned from the holiday break. But when school returned to session Wednesday, the rest of the middle-school student body was assigned a laptop for school work.

Getting the devices into the hands of every student is part of the One-to-One Initiative put into place by Forest Park Elementary School District 91 this year. 

“This dream began last year with the hiring of [computer administrator] James Eichmiller, who brought the idea to [Principal Karen] Bukowski,” said middle school English teacher and school media spokeswoman Rebecca Ciardullo.

Chromebooks are small laptop devices always connected to the Internet. Student work is saved in the “cloud” so students can get access to their assignments and work at home through a Web connection.

The laptops weigh 2.5 pounds and run on a simple, quick operating system that boots up within eight seconds and quickly accesses the Internet for all applications based in cloud computing. The district paid an average of $277 per Chromebook. 

Students pick up the Chromebooks in morning homeroom, Ciardullo said, and use them throughout the day, returning the devices to the homeroom at the end of the day. 

A handful of teachers at the middle school offered to pilot the program at the beginning of the year, but all staff has been offered training since the fall, which will continue through the rest of the year.

Parents were invited to a Chromebook Panther Parent Night, Jan. 23, to introduce them to the new technology. After a brief presentation, about 100 parents attended breakout sessions to see how the Chromebooks worked. Parents learned how to log onto the student folders from home and how to prepare presentations in Prezi and comics in Pixton. Parents were allowed to glimpse the possibilities of sharing documents on Google Drive and see how teachers and students were already using the Chromebooks in the classrooms. Parents asked eight student panelists whether the devices were heavy or more trouble to carry than books and paper. 

“The kids were wonderfully poised and incredibly honest in their answers,” Ciardullo said. 

The D91 school board voted, Oct. 10, to spend $69,250 to purchase 250 Google Chromebook devices specifically for the middle school. Although the board was supportive of the initiative, board member Sean Blaylock expressed qualms about the specific device. 

Blaylock said he was concerned that the Chromebook was outside of Google’s “core competency” and worried they might become obsolete sooner because of that. He also said Chromebooks don’t integrate with other district technology such as Promethean Whiteboards. Blaylock said he “loved the [One-to-One] initiative,” but is “still not sold on the hardware.”

The benefits of students having their own devices were presented to the D91 board by Ed Brophy at the October meeting. These include students being able to grade each other’s work, students collaborating on presentations, producing writing samples, using online textbooks, using the Cornell note-taking strategy software and taking part in online discussions (typing their responses into a class-shared document.) 

The new Common Core standards also require teachers to incorporate new technology tools into the curriculum, Brophy said. 

Next year, the Chromebooks will be used from kindergarten through eighth grade, the board was told in June. 

“The goal is eventually one to one, every student,” said D91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo. “We want to set the standard for technology,” Cavallo said last June.

 “We’ve thought through this very carefully. We’re rolling things out in a slow, but steady way. It seems like a lot of money, but technology is not cheap,” he told the board. 

“We have the funds to make sure that we are a top-notch school district, not just one that gets by with the bare minimum,” Cavallo added.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...