Lake Norman & Mooresville

School-issued laptops are a big hit

Kayla Enriquez is getting used to her new class buddy.

The 10-year-old fifth-grader at Mooresville Intermediate School is one of more than 3,500 students to get a new laptop this year in the district, and next year every student from fourth grade up will get one.

“I really like the Web camera,” she said. “You can take pictures of yourself and a bunch of other things. This is really cool.”

All of the fourth grade and higher students at Mooresville Intermediate have laptops, and so do all of the students at Mooresville High School. It is part of a $1.5 million initiative by the school district to help kids learn and advance the school system into a new concept.

“It really evens the playing field for everybody,” said Troy Homesley, a junior at Mooresville High. “A lot of people can't afford computers at home, but this way, everyone can have them.”

The school system raised the money for almost 6,000 laptops with help from local businesses, including a $250,000 donation from Lowe's Companies Inc. Now, instead of a computer room where one class can use computers, the laptop program gives every student full-time access to machines. Students can even take them home.

Those laptops, which will be distributed at Mooresville Middle School and East Mooresville Intermediate School next year, aren't handed out carelessly, school officials say. Parents and students must take 90-minute training courses on how to use the laptops, and each student must pay a $50 insurance fee to cover the cost of any accidental damage, loss or theft of a laptop. Kids who intentionally damage laptops face the same discipline as they would for damaging any other school property.

The laptops also have strict filters in place, so students can't visit sites such as MySpace or Facebook, and administrators have remote access to see what a student is viewing at any time.

“All you can think about are all the mischievous things a teenager can do,” said Mooresville High teacher Jessica Swearengin. “But then you see the real benefit … once you see them. When the students are excited about something, they are more likely to buy into what you are teaching them.”

Administrators say the laptops are useful also because teachers can use programs that allow tests and homework to be done electronically. That cuts down on paper costs and can help ease teacher workloads. High-school students can also learn more about computers by joining the school's Help Desk, which analyzes the laptops that malfunction. Students earn credit for the vocational course, which helps them learn about the laptops and how to fix them.

School officials said they plan to re-evaluate the program in three years, and possibly give out another set of laptops. So far, school officials say, things are working well.

“This was one of the smoothest deployments I have seen in 23 years in education,” school spokesperson Dreisa Sherrill said.

Administrators aren't sure if students will keep their laptops over the summer break or return them to the school. Kayla would like to keep hers – she has a screensaver of a dolphin on her screen and photos of bubbles and fish. She uses the laptop to listen to Miley Cyrus songs on Itunes and said she's glad to have one.

“You don't need a lot of books,” she said. “It makes everything a lot easier.”

Classmate Jakob Buckley said he's careful not to break his laptop and makes sure to keep it out of the rain. He said he appreciates the fact that Mooresville students are among the first in the state to all have laptops.

“These will help us a lot,” he said. “We are pretty lucky.”