Glendale — Nicolet High School's freshman class will have a classroom experience unlike any other students who came before them.
Last week, the 310 freshmen students were handed their own Chromebook computer, which they will carry with them for the next four years of high school. More than a dozen Milwaukee-area school districts have proposed or adopted a similar "1:1 digital learning initiative," which ensures each student has the same access to interactive classroom resources.
Last year's freshmen tested out Chromebooks in their global studies classrooms. Chromebooks are web-based notebooks that allow students and teachers to share documents through Google Drive, which is just one of many web-based applications that are utilized in the classroom.
Nicolet social studies teacher Phyllis Santacroce said students were able to perform their own research using several historical reference libraries, including a digital database of historical newspapers dating back the Revolutionary War.
"It's not just searching the Internet," Santacroce said. "It's all of these tools we make available throughout the digital world."
There are also programs that read text out loud to students, and a program that allows teachers to view each student's screen. Students also have access to a dictionary application, so students can research words they don't know.
"They have a much more active role in their learning with this initiative," said social studies teacher Kasey Ehrke. "There's a personalized piece to this initiative that allows us to maintain the great sense of community we have here, but also allows kids to take these lessons and make them their own."
Nicolet sophomore Sarah Fleming used the Chromebooks during her global studies class last year, and is a little envious that this year's freshmen get to use the computers full-time.
"I would love to use a Chromebook all the time," she said. "I think it's so much more productive. Plus you don't have to carry a ton of paper and giant textbooks around all day."
The 11-inch touchscreen computers cost $337 per student, which would be a $15,073 increase over the district's annual hardware budget of $182,000. By purchasing a Chromebook for each student, the district would be able to phase out 610 existing student computers, which are on a five-year replacement cycle.
"This additional expenditure will move us from a model of having a lot of computers around the building that service many of our students a lot of the time, to a model where we know each student has the access they need each day in each classroom and at home, to use digital resources to accelerate their learning," said Nicolet technology director John Reiels.
While the district pays for the device, each family will pay a $15 annual fee to cover a repair plan for all devices. Families are responsible for the full replacement cost if the Chromebook is lost or stolen. Once the students graduate from high school, the school district would turn off its management settings on the Chromebook, and it would become the property of the students.
"Now, our students have the opportunity to utilize resources and relationships, not just in the classroom or local community, but throughout the world," Superintendent Robert Kobylski said. "This is a giant step forward for Nicolet."
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