CLAYMONT — When Archmere Academy administrators informed students last year that each of them would be receiving a laptop from the school beginning this year, Kelsey Kushner was not impressed.
“I thought it was the worst idea ever,” the senior said last week. “I was so used to taking notes, that was the way I studied, and I didn’t want to change anything, especially not for senior year.”
Kushner said she had found the requirement to have a laptop a distraction at her previous school, but her outlook is changing as the program evolves at Archmere. “It’s just easier to have everything in one spot.”
Archmere introduced the one-on-one laptop program this year after a three-year process of investigation, said Carl Campion, the school’s director of technology. He called the initiative a “natural progression” from the technology the school was using. The school also wanted its students to have access to the same technology.
Faculty members received their Apple MacBook Pro laptops last winter, and the 485 students got theirs just before school started. Students rent the computers for $300, which covers insurance and software licensing, Campion said. School officials were hopeful some of the cost would be offset by not having to purchase as many textbooks.
Junior Jason Andrechak uses his computer for note-taking and homework. He has his French book online, but he prefers regular textbooks. “At some point the textbooks expire online, so you don’t get to keep it.”
Online textbooks are an advantage for one senior. Christina Lawless said her parents have always had to buy two sets of books because she is a twin, but now she can share her online astronomy book. There’s another advantage as well.
“It’s nice that you don’t have to carry around these textbooks. I hardly go to my locker any more because everything is on my laptop,” she said.
Taking notes has gotten easier, too, and more organized, Andrechak added. “You can start and stop taking notes anywhere and just pick it up, and it’s a lot faster than writing out your notes.”
The laptops have been a hit with teachers.
Cristina Deirmengian, a Spanish teacher, said the concentration of the students and the amount of material they cover have increased. She has fewer interruptions in class.
“As soon as the computer opens they get right to work. The concentration is unbelievable,” Deirmengian said. “When the kids, seniors, beg me to practice vocabulary, you know something’s working.”
She said the laptop initiative has increased her workload since she needs to have more material available for students who learn at a faster pace, but it’s worth it.
Science department chairman Glenn Hartman said he is seeing his best lab reports in 13 years at the school. The students have all their draft reports at their fingertips and can add pictures, video, animation and sound.
“They’ve been able to move to a much higher level,” he said.
Nearly all his students take notes directly on their MacBooks, and they are much more organized and detailed than in previous years. Software allows the students to add bullet points or draw pictures as they go.
With the laptops, they are free to work on any material at any time, such as after school while waiting for a ride home. All of the computers are connected, so partners can work together without having to be together.
“It just makes our lives much more seamless,” Hartman said.
What is most impressive to Deirmengian “is that my class has become student-centered instead of teacher-centered. Believe me, I have tried for years because that is when kids learn the most.”
The Lower Merion School District in suburban Philadelphia has had a similar program for a few years but ran into legal problems when administrators remotely activated cameras in the laptops and took pictures of students in their homes.
Campion said the Lower Merion situation was a concern of students, parents and administrators.
“We made it clear to the families that we would not be using any of that off-campus monitoring software. For academic purposes, we do have some teachers using software for screen-sharing and file-sharing,” he said.
The school expects students to respect the equipment and realize that it belongs to Archmere. The school is teaching the students how to responsibly use the laptops, which are also subject to an on-campus inspection at any time.
So far, there has been a bit of damage, mostly broken screens, Campion said. One laptop was run over in the parking lot. Another died when a student’s water bottle came open in her backpack and soaked the MacBook.
Information at fingertips
Archmere headmaster Michael Marinelli endorsed the initiative, which was in the works before his arrival last year. Marinelli, who is also an Archmere graduate, said the school has always tried to stay on the cutting edge so that its students could compete either in college or in the job market.
“From an educational perspective, we had to move in this direction,” he said.
Younger students, those in sixth and seventh grade and below, do not remember a world before high-speed Internet access, and they expect that in all aspects of their lives, he said.
“The new guys coming up expect information at their fingertips all the time, any time,” Marinelli said. “That’s information for research, information to connect to one another. So all we’re doing is providing that tool and teaching them how to use it in an academic way responsibly.”