How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School

Birgit Nazarian, Writer, specializing in IT and HR | 2/21/2012 | 21 comments

Birgit Nazarian
On May 22, 2011, a multi-vortex category 5 tornado ripped a 13-mile path of destruction through Joplin, Missouri. One hundred sixty people lost their lives. Thousands more in the community lost homes, workplaces, and schools. But in the aftermath of that tragic event, visionary leaders in the Joplin school district saw an opportunity to rebuild the kind of school that would take their kids into the future with technology.

An in depth story in Education Week's Digital Directions blog reveals how important laptops were in holding the local high school together in Joplin even when the physical building was in rubble. With so many students displaced, district superintendent C.J. Huff was told by people, "You're going to lose upwards of 30 percent of your student population."

In reality the school only lost 5 percent of students after receiving donations from many sources that wanted to help, including a million dollar donation from the government of the United Arab Emirates. Superintendent Huff believes the retention of students had something to do with the school system's 1:1 initiative -- to have an Apple Macbook in the hands of every student before school began last fall.

Superintendent Huff, assistant superintendent Angie Besendorfer, and staff in charge of technology for the district knew this was the time to move the school into the 21st century, and they knew it was an ambitious plan. The deployment of laptops took 55 days, a plan originally projected to take nine months. And many students and teachers were at first resistant. A number of students didn't previously own laptops or have Internet access at home. The teams of volunteers and tech personnel were burdened with a huge task to educate and help teachers over the learning curve. From all accounts, moving from textbooks to laptops was a painful process but a hopeful one, driven by determination.

Two recent news stories from Joplin's local CBS affiliate KOAM tell how the students, teachers, and IT staff were challenged to make this rapid adjustment to using laptops and how it has changed learning in the classroom.

Predictably, today the IT staff is kept on their toes developing ever more robust filtering systems to keep students off "forbidden Websites" and repairing laptops that have suffered from jammed end ports or soft drink and salsa spills. The technicians, interns from a local college, and student volunteers see five to ten laptops for repairs a day. And students surfing the Web or eating up bandwidth using Skype during class is another headache for teachers. But government and history teacher Will Keczkementhy maintains that with the laptops learning is so enriched that "Everyday is like Christmas."

We've discussed introducing laptops and tablets into public schools a few times before on Enterprise Efficiency and debated whether or not it was a viable solution for K-12 classrooms. Joplin is a compelling case study tested out in the most chaotic of circumstances with positive results. The director of technology for Joplin High School, Traci House, sums it up: "Would we have preferred more time? You bet. Have there been challenges? Absolutely. If we had it to do all over again we'd do the same exact thing. It's been a heck of a ride, but I would want this for any other district. It's the right thing for kids."

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batye   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   6/2/2012 12:17:27 PM
Re: trial by fire
I think future would be digital education... as technology develops we would see more and more digital classroom...
tracihouse   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   3/10/2012 1:00:04 PM
disruptive innovation to say the least
I wanted to post and say thank you to those in the tech world who 'get it' as far as the challenges Joplin Schools faced in reconstructing our district's crushed fiber optics network, as well as making ready newly-leased facilities to accommodate not only our 'normal' school technology needs, but the addition of a 1:1 initiative (2200 laptops) in such a limited amount of time. We worked in a furious and frantic mode the entire summer because of strong district leadership. We often laughed just to keep ourselves from crying. There was no greater feeling in the world than the opening day of school and seeing our high school students (now attending school in a mall) receive a laptop and get signed on for the first time with their active directory accounts. We were holding our breath, hoping AP distribution was more than adequate...and it was. :)  As with any drastic change we continue to encounter our fair share of hits and misses, but we view each as a learning experience. This implementation has been blissful chaos (and we would do it all over again). - Traci House, Joplin Schools Director of Technology
impactnow   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/28/2012 1:33:04 PM
Re: laptops and webcams

Birgit I agree a whole classroom presents different challenges but it's a great solution for temporary disasters bad weather and illness.

bnazarian   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/23/2012 12:05:52 PM
Re: laptops and webcams
@impactnow,  a friend of mine a few years ago took advantage of just that kind of scenario. Her 8 year old daugther was being treated for leukemia and her school in Norway gave them a laptop so her daugther could learn while at home - now she's back in school.

I am sure it's easier to manage remote learning on a one-to-one basis, more complicated with a whole classroom of kids. The Joplin kids after they got the laptops at the start of the school year had temporary classrooms where they could learn together with a teacher present but they could also take the laptops home and if more convenient, get tutoring from teachers after school hours or contact classmates, sounds like the best of both worlds.
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impactnow   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/23/2012 10:08:30 AM
laptops and webcams

It a great application I recently heard of schools using technology to provide children who are away for extended periods or ill access to their classroom and via webcam to participate in lectures and class work. It's a great way to assure students don't lose out on class work while sick.

Syerita Turner   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/22/2012 8:38:24 PM
How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School
Interesting post. Now we see the importance of keeping our kids digitally involved when it comes to schools. As with anything it will have it challenges, but ultimately if can positively bring a school together by still having class just not physically in the event of a natural disaster. I think that more schools should think of this as a back-up plan in the event that one day such a disaster can prevent children from physically attending schools. Do you think that schools are equipped to handle such a disaster? How do you think that most schools would be able to get information to students without internet access? Just gives you something to think about doesn't it?
kstaron   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/22/2012 2:30:01 PM
trial by fire
Wow, this is an impressive feat to get that many kids that many laptops. as a former educator, I would love to see how teaching has changed after this year according to the teachers and students. Since this was a literal trial by fire, I wonder what the long term consequences (good and bad) will be for this school, community, and digital education in general.
kicheko   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/22/2012 8:46:05 AM
Re: laptops
Its impressive the adoption of IT in education and more so use of laptops for school kids. The ratio is fairly good as well because at 3 kids per laptop, that ensures each kid has a good level of access to a laptop on any given study session. surely a good kick off to a future where online education is going to get more mainstream.
Damian Romano   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/22/2012 8:41:18 AM
Re: 55 DAYS?!
@Sara - Thats first thing that stuck out to me in this article too! Wow, 55 days. Guess that goes to show you what can be done when you're under fire, so to speak. Great story overall.
Pedro Gonzales   How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School   2/22/2012 1:03:28 AM
I'm very happy and excited to see an article like this, it shows how through the use of technology a school district can continue to serve its students.  I'm happy to know that they had a lot of volunteers and IT staff available to serve everyone in case of technical problems, managing the security policies of some many individuals should be tough.  Lets hope other school district can learn from this one and try to implement this strategy on their own communities
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