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."