Providing students with access to technology tough, but doable

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 17, 2007

NATCHEZ — Stretching 1,800 district computers to meet the needs of 4,000 technology-minded students plus their teachers takes ingenuity, but it’s doable.

The most successful answer lies in a metal cart with wheels that Natchez public school teachers race to get.

At Morgantown Elementary signup for the mobile computer lab starts at the beginning of school. It’s first come first serve, and once your name is on the calendar 25 Gateway laptops belong to your class for the day.

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Fifth-grade teacher Sandra Washington made sure she was at the front of the line on signup day.

“With me wanting to put all children on a computer, I had to get the lab,” she said. “We must practice objectives from the state department and the lab affords us that opportunity.”

Washington and all other teachers in the building use three programs that guide students through questions modeled after state tests in all subject areas. The students have their own login, and once the computers are passed out, they work on their own.

The computer programs can grade lessons and give teachers instant feedback on what skills a particular student may need work on, Washington said.

Computers in the classroom

When the school’s mobile lab is claimed for the day, teachers have other options to incorporate technology into their lessons.

Each classroom has at least one desktop computer, and most have between three and five. These computers are to be used by teachers and students.

All schools except West and Frazier primaries have fixed computer labs that classes visit. Morgantown has two fixed labs in addition to the mobile lab. Robert Lewis Middle School has two fixed labs and three computer discovery classrooms.

And the newest wave of technology is about to come to RLMS and Morgantown in the form of the Promethean Board, similar to SMART Board.

The board — funded by federal dollars issued to the two schools because of low test scores — is a large computer screen that can be written on. Teachers can project lessons from their computers or view the Internet on the board for the whole class to use at once.

The boards should arrive and be in classrooms by the end of the school year.

The network

The district runs 30 servers and 800 e-mail accounts. Most of the schools have wireless networks.

And all district computers run on Windows XP or a higher operating system. All desktops are Dell; all laptops are Gateway.

“We are leading the state in infrastructure and as far as computers in the classroom go,” Technology Coordinator Nick Peterman said. “We are one of the major players in the state when it comes to technology, there’s no question about it.”

But maintaining that technology takes work and money, Peterman said. And all the computers aren’t as up-to-date as he’d like.

“There are 30 to 40 percent of the computers we have that need to be upgraded,” he said.

And they always need more.

Each school manages computer purchases through their own budget. Peterman’s office advises principals on what is needed, and most schools upgrade a third of their computers every three or four years.