In 2001, my family and I moved to a rural community in central Nebraska. I grew up as a city girl, and this move was a bit of a culture shock for me. I loved the peacefulness of the rural environment, but at times I felt the remoteness quite acutely. The most painful adjustment for me was the school system in which our children were enrolled. I graduated from a Class A school with college credits under my belt, and the idea of a Class D1 school for my own children was a little depressing. I knew there were classes and opportunities that would not be available to my children. This is no longer the case.
Two years ago, our school district began the one-to-one computer initiative. Through this program, each high school student is issued a laptop for their personal use at home and at school throughout the school year. They carry the laptop with them just like they carry their book bag. For students who may not have a wireless connection at home, arrangements are made to work through that issue as well, (I do not have the details on this) so every high school student has access to the same technology throughout the school year. This is a program that is cost prohibitive to larger schools. Through this program, this small school district has virtually leap-frogged ahead of larger school districts. A host of educational opportunities are now available to our students, and they enter college more familiar with the type of technology they will be expected to access as college students. In short, this changes everything.
The use of technology at this level has highlighted what a small school district has always had going for it. We have always had a low staff to teacher ratio, which means each student receives a lot of personal attention. It is unusual for a class to have more than twelve students, and class sizes of six to ten are typical. Absences no longer pose a problem, as teachers can post materials with the confidence that all students will be able to access them. An added benefit is the reduction in paper waste, as attendance, announcements, and homework may all be done digitally. A monitoring system allows staff to control what students are accessing during the school day, both by blocking content and literally monitoring screen activity through a program that allows the teacher and administrators to see the screen of the students as they work. It is not unusual to have a message from the principal pop up on all school screens simultaneously. This type of monitoring would be a staffing nightmare at a school of 1,000 or more students!
The laptop program is supplemented by other technology tools such as Smart Boards and Promethean Boards. It has also resulted in a trickle-down effect for the lower grades, as the high school no longer has a need for a computer lab. This program has been very smoothly integrated into our school, and there have been very few incidences of misuse, theft, or damage of equipment. I personally feel that it has raised the level of responsibility of all of our students, and has also let some students excel in areas that may have been underutilized before. The educational landscape has definitely changed for a small school district!