Orange parents get high-tech guidance

Parents of students in new program get high-tech guidance

glloyd@newsobserver.comJanuary 1, 2013 

OCLAPTOPS4-CHN-101712-HLL

A.L. Stanback 6th grader Maddie Vavrousek concentrates on a book report session on her school-issued laptop during and open class session Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 in English language arts teacher Michele Johnson's class. At the start of this school year, late August 2012, over four thousand (4,000) 6th - 12th grade students in Orange County schools were issued the first laptop computers to begin the transition from textbooks.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com

— Hundreds of Orange County parents can now say they graduated from Laptop 101.

After the August debut of the 1:1 laptop program in Orange County Schools, which gave every student in middle and high school a laptop for the school year, some parents said they felt left behind by the new technology – or worried by their children’s new access the Internet.

Lenovo representatives and Orange County technology employees held a class for more than 350 parents at a Laptop 101 Family Academy held at A.L. Stanback Middle School in November, providing guidance on Internet safety and laptop care.

“I didn’t grow up in a world where we had computers in schools, or even at home,” said Nita Morley of Chapel Hill, whose daughter Delaney is a fourth-grader at New Hope Elementary. “It’s much different now. (Students today) have the world at their fingertips.”

That world now comes to Orange County students through Lenovo’s X131E laptops, which the company specifically developed for use by children in schools in collaboration with superintendents and teachers. The computers are “ruggedized” for heavy use with domed lids, recessed ports and reinforced hinges and bezels.

“We made that piece of plastic stronger, because despite telling kids don’t do this… they do this,” Sam Morris, Lenovo education solutions manager, said in a breakout session as he held one of the laptops up by its screen.

The hinges on the district’s laptops can be opened 50,000 times before replacement, said Morris, a former mathematics teacher at Cary Academy, because children typically open and close their laptops in the course of a school day much more than adults do.

In a session on Internet safety, A.L. Stanback technology facilitator Matthew Fry talked about helping their child become a good “digital citizen,” careful with their digital footprint and setting appropriate privacy levels on social networks.

“These kids now really do live in a world that’s far different from previous generations,” he said, “So we have to understand there is that gap and be prepared to change how we see things.”

Realistic advice

Although some parents might be tempted to outlaw Internet use altogether, Fry said, that is unrealistic in a world in which the Internet is so prevalent and useful.

David Ekstrom of Hillsborough, who works in information technology at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, attended because his daughter goes to Orange County High School. He said Orange County Schools have done a good job using free and open-source technology, helping teachers incorporate the technology into their lessons and advising students on what they post online.

Shannon and David Hall’s daughter Chloe, a Gravelly Hill Elementary sixth-grader, won a laptop given away by Lenovo at the event.

“I came because I (also) have a 14-year-old son,” Shannon Hall, of Mebane, said. “As parents, we know that our children are always going to be smarter than we are – but I just wanted to make sure I’m on top of things when it comes to the Internet.”

Some students have taken advantage of their laptops to surf the web during class, Fry said, but teachers, other students and the state’s Internet filters prevent it from being a huge problem.

“There are times, walking around the classroom, when teachers have to refocus students,” he said. “For every roadblock we put up, there’s always going to be a way around, unfortunately.”

Proxy servers, which allow students to visit blocked websites like Facebook, are constantly being updated and blocked by the district’s information technology (IT) workers, as well as the state. Students are quick to tell school workers about other students who are accessing blocked websites or have downloaded gaming software, Fry added.

“Students are very good at ratting each other out,” Fry said. “We’ve had some instances where a student may have downloaded some games or put things on the laptop – not necessarily lewd or anything.”

Since the schools only allow approved software on the laptops, if a child has downloaded unauthorized software, school workers will return the laptop to its original state and give it back to the student. IT personnel can remotely enter students’ laptops and check their entire Internet and search history. But rather than spying on students, the district has emphasized teaching responsible use.

Lloyd: 919-932-2008

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