OSCEOLA -

When school starts Wednesday at Penn High School, this year for the first time ever, the school will issue Google Chromebooks to every student. It's a digital advance that has taken years of planning for P-H-M.

No one knows that better than P-H-M's Director of Technology, Matt Hapke.

"On Wednesday, the first day of school, students will grab a Chromebook put in their Gmail and be able to work right then," Hapke says. "It's ready to use in seconds. It lasts all day. It's light and its inexpensive to repair and replace."

Hapke says the devices cost about $300 each. The district bought 5,000 of them, so that amounts to about a $1.5 million investment.

"We are one of the largest schools in the state to be doing it at this level," Hapke explains.

The Chromebooks mean the days of super heavy backpacks weighing students down may be a thing of the past. Teachers say it will likely cut the number of traditional textbooks students have to carry in half.

"It does start a new era," says Penn Principal Steve Hope.

Teachers also acknowledge there will be a learning curve for some of the staff.

"It's a little nerve wracking. Students have grown up with computers in their hands since they were very young and we haven't. It will be a learning experience for us as well," says Kelley Watts, a world language teacher at Penn.

"For some of the staff, there will be a large learning curve," adds Sarah Hickle, an AP US History teacher at Penn.

But Watts says parents shouldn't be concerned that their students will be online and in front of a screen from arrival to dismissal.

"We will use Chromebooks 50-50 in the classroom, because we need face to face interaction." Watts says teachers will be giving instructions to students about "lids up, lids down" as it relates to having the Chromebooks open for use in class.

Watts says the new devices may require some extra policing from teachers when it comes to keeping students on task.

"This isn't entertainment, it's a tool. We are here for an educational purpose," Watts says.

Hickle isn't too concerned about classroom behavior issues related to the Chromebooks.

"They all have cell phones, so putting a Chromebook in their hands is not any different to me," Hickle says. "For me, it's not an issue to combat students being distracted. There are lots of ways to be distracted."

The new technology will also allow teachers to stay in better touch with students, especially on days when school is cancelled or delayed due to weather.

"If you have a snow day or something like that, you can communicate with them. They have all the materials they need," explains Hickle.

In fact, Hope says, "Our plan this year would be to push out the e-learning assignment on the actual days the snow day occurs."

Hope says the district has done studies showing about 90% of students have online access at home. He says the Chromebooks will help even the playing field for that other 10%. "This is not about haves and have-nots. It's about supplying an educational device for every single student," Hope says.

Parents have the option of buying insurance on their student's Chromebook. But if they are stolen or lost, it's up to the student to buy a new one.

"Not many people steal textbooks, but one of the benefits of having an inexpensive device is it won't work for anyone who doesn't go to P-H-M schools," explains Hapke.

He says they are all registered thru P-H-M's Google domain.

There is an internet content filter in place within the Penn building. But there are no content filters installed on the Chromebooks.

"When they take them home and use them on a home network, they are obeying
the rules of the household," Hapke says.

Hope says there is also talk of installing pucks on buses so students can do homework on their Chromebooks while they are traveling to and from sporting events.