Laptops improve students' attendance, performance

A year after providing free laptop computers to all of its students and teachers, Mississippi's Hancock High School has seen attendance rates rise and discipline problems decline, the school's superintendent said at last week's Hancock Technology Day.

"We wanted to offer students access to the world's largest library anytime, anywhere," superintendent Terry Randolph said. "Especially being a rural district where all of our students are bussed, and some live 20 miles away from the nearest library, they didn't have access."

Randolph instituted the program last year through a partnership with Mountain View, Calif.-based NetSchools Corp., which provides the school with its wireless StudyPro computers, server and software, along with training and technical support.

The high school, located in Kiln, Miss., on the state's Gulf Coast, paid for the $2.1 million network with state-appropriated funds, a $20 million bond issue, the federal E-Rate program and some local dollars, Randolph said.

Hancock High School houses more than 1,100 students, and each student and teacher has received a laptop computer. "The laptops are designed specifically for schools are especially rigged for student use," said Diane Rapley, NetSchools' vice president of marketing. "They can drop it, jump on it, spill chocolate milk on the keyboard, and it's not going to break."

Randolph and Rapley noted that the students adapted to the new technology faster than their teachers and have been largely responsible for teaching the teachers. "About one-third of our teachers were not computer literate when we started," Randolph said. "They all went through a couple of days of training...but our teachers have learned from our students more than anything else."

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