Private schools log on to high-tech learning

Roland Park, others look to integrate laptops into curriculum, home life

January 20, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Sitting in Patrick Hourigan's technology class at Roland Park Country School, sixth-grader Jillian DiPasquale confidently moves the cursor across the small screen of her laptop computer as she learns how to set up homework folders that she will use next year when she has a laptop of her own.

Jillian says she is not intimidated by laptop technology. What worries the 11-year-old is that she will drop the machine and break it while walking to class, or that homework assignments will disappear.

Jillian and her sixth-grade classmates at the all-girls private school in North Baltimore will be required to purchase the 6-pound portable Mitsubishi computers next year in the last phase of a program to integrate laptops into the school's curriculum. Roland Park will offer three purchase options to parents that run between $2,000 and $3,000.

Roland Park Country and several other private schools in the Baltimore area see the laptop as a high-tech learning tool that helps students in the classroom and at home by giving them instant access to information. And they think each student should be required to have one.

"We want to provide our students with the cutting edge of technology," said Cami Colarossi, director of public relations at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. All the high school students there will need to have laptops by 2006.

But not all schools believe individual ownership of the portable computers is a good idea. Some students can't afford them, administrators say, and the technology can quickly become outdated. Some schools have programs is in place to assist scholarship students to cover the cost of the laptops.

"I have some concerns about the laptops," said Mercer Neale III, headmaster at Boys' Latin School in North Baltimore, where individually owned laptops are not required. "The issues are the expense, the upkeep and the obsolescence.

"On a more philosophical ground, we don't want to have technology for technology's sake because that's not what the school is about. I also don't want to see the students in front of a screen all day."

Teaching tool

Boys' Latin is equipped with laptop and desktop computers.

Individual laptop programs were started because there weren't enough computer labs to accommodate all students at the same time, administrators say. Teachers also wanted students to have access to up-to-date information anytime, anywhere.

The Calvert School in the city's Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood has had a laptop program for four years and requires pupils to purchase laptops starting in fifth grade.

Beginning in September, Notre Dame Prep will join the ranks of private schools requiring students to purchase laptops. The program will be phased in, starting with ninth-graders.

Ryan Imbriale, program coordinator for professional development at the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Technology in Education, said private schools like laptops because they can be used anywhere, thanks to wireless networks. Prices also have dropped in recent years, and the machines weigh less than when they were introduced.

"It's another teaching tool," he said. "I am a big supporter of them in classrooms because there is so much you can do with them. Students can carry the laptop on a field trip and enter data right there. You can't get that with a desktop."

`Practical approach'

But some school officials say they don't believe the laptops are appropriate for their curricula. Others say they can't justify asking parents to spend as much as $3,000 when students already have access to desktop or laptop computers at home and at school.

"With the high tuitions [at private schools], parents don't need additional expenses," said Anne Kellerman, director of technology at Boys' Latin. "I take the practical approach because there is no right way and no wrong way."

At Roland Park Country School, 450 students and faculty members use laptops daily in classrooms. The school has phased in its program of individual ownership, and laptops have become an integral part of instruction, said Phyllis Tripp, director of technology.

"These students have a level of comfort with the technology now," she said.

McDonogh School in Owings Mills has its own network of 400 computers where students can contact teachers, exchange files, take notes, do homework assignments and have their own e-mail accounts. Students are not required to buy laptops.

"We have a more teacher-directed college preparatory curriculum," said Lynn McKain, director of public relations. "We don't believe our curriculum is driving the need for laptops."

"There is no right answer about the laptop program," she said. "Each school has to decide what is right."

At Loyola Blakefield in Towson, students aren't allowed to bring laptops to school.

"It's an issue here with students carrying these laptops around," said Debbe Cotter, director of educational technology. "The idea of security for these computers would be impossible."

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