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Sixth-grade literacy teacher Abby Lundy helps students as they work on an exercise on their Chromebooks at Bunger Middle School in February in Evansdale.

WATERLOO — Waterloo Community Schools is adding two grade levels in its effort to provide a computer for each student.

All middle school students will be issued a Chromebook next fall along with freshmen at the high schools. A year later, the effort could grow to include all high school students.

A $997,058 technology purchase approved by the Board of Education last week included expansion of the current one-to-one computer model.

The district began providing one of the laptop computers to every sixth-grader at its four middle schools in the fall of 2016. Last fall, it expanded to seventh-graders. Eighth- and ninth-graders will be the new additions when students return from summer break.

Matt O’Brien, the district’s executive director of technology, hopes the growth continues after that, as well. “The intention being, we would look at all secondary students,” he said, in the fall of 2019. The board would still need to approve further expansion.

That model of distribution “is about trying to leverage” funds already spent on computers, O’Brien told the board. He said the lower “total cost of ownership” for a Chromebook compared a standard laptop or desktop computer means the district spends roughly the same amount of money as it normally would on lifecycle replacement of the devices. Normally at the secondary level, the practice has been to provide one computer for every three students.

O’Brien emphasized that providing computers students can use in class and take home with them throughout the school year is simply a tool that doesn’t replace teaching. “While this is a new technology purchase, we don’t want to view this as a technology initiative,” he said.

Board members had questions about what happens when student-issued Chromebooks are damaged.

The “instance of some sort of breakage” is 15 percent across the district and by building ranges “from 10 to 20 percent, depending on the school,” said O’Brien. The average cost of in-house repairs is “probably somewhere in the $30 to $40 range.”

He noted that families can sign up for the district’s cooperative loss program, paying a $25 fee each year to get a 40 percent break in the repair bill of a damaged computer. “Roughly 27 percent of our (sixth- and seventh-grade) parents have opted to participate in that.”

O’Brien said both Mediacom and Century Link providers participate in an effort to provide lower cost internet access to families whose income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunches. The Mediacom program provides up to 10 megabytes per second internet service for $9.95 per month to those who haven’t subscribed in at least 90 days. The district is also in the midst of a grant from Sprint that provides 250 “hotspots” for internet access to similarly low-income families.

The broader technology purchase approved by the board includes 3,507 devices to replace computers that range from four to eight years old. The district received bids from six vendors and awarded them to CDWG and Dell. Purchases include 344 Dell Latitude 5590 laptops, 117 Dell Optiplex 3050 AIO desktops, 2,892 Acer C731 Chromebooks and 154 Apple iPads.

Along with purchases for sixth- and ninth-graders district wide, the computers are for students at Becker, Irving, Lincoln, Lou Henry, Lowell and Poyner elementary schools. They will also go to staff at Orange and Cunningham elementaries, all four middle schools, and Expo Alternative Learning Center. Various staff and administrators throughout the district are receiving some of the computers, as well.

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Waterloo Schools / HCC Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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