Atascadero Unified rolls out plan to get a computer for every kid

How kids are using Chromebooks at one Atascadero school

A teacher and student at Santa Rosa Academic Academy in Atascadero talk about how they use Chromebooks in their fourth-grade classroom.
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A teacher and student at Santa Rosa Academic Academy in Atascadero talk about how they use Chromebooks in their fourth-grade classroom.

Fourth-grade student Juan Contreras was busy Wednesday working on a slideshow about Mission San Francisco Solano to get it ready to show at Santa Rosa Academic Academy’s open house that night.

He checked his notes, then started typing on a Chromebook — one of about 180 lightweight laptop computers that have been distributed to every third- through fifth-grade student at the elementary school as part of Atascadero Unified School District’s comprehensive plan to roll out a one-to-one student technology plan districtwide.

“I really like it — I like that it’s mine,” Contreras, 9, said when asked about the Chromebook. “I like typing; it’s easier than writing. I don’t get a hand cramp.”

Atascadero district students have had access to computers in the classroom or in computer labs, but not on a one-to-one basis, which provides a laptop to each child.

“(It) opens up a whole other world of things you can do,” Santa Rosa Academic Academy Principal Chris Allen said.

“You can push out an assignment to all the kids at the same time,” he said. “They can watch a video and answer questions, or listen to a story and then have a discussion with a partner. They can research things, create things in Google Drawings, share a document with a partner.”

“The kids take to it like fish to water.”

Over the next 18 months or so, the district will distribute Chromebooks to all third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students for educational use — about 900 students.

This year, the computers will stay in the classrooms; next year, some of the Santa Rosa students may embark on another pilot program to take the devices home, and work to ensure that all students have Wi-Fi access at home. The elementary students will be able to use the same device during their entire time at that school and then receive another Chromebook for their time at middle school.

After all of the elementary schools have the computers, the district will roll out the one-to-one student computer initiative at the middle and high schools. The secondary schools will receive new computers after the elementary sites because there’s still construction work going on at Atascadero Junior High and Atascadero High, Superintendent Tom Butler said.

The one-to-one (technology) opens up a whole other world of things you can do. ... The kids take to it like fish to water.

Santa Rosa Academic Academy Principal Chris Allen

The district’s successful facility bond measure included more than $3.9 million to upgrade technology infrastructure throughout the district, such as Wi-Fi access points, telephone systems and teacher computer stations. District trustees in January voted to spend $400,000 on Chromebooks for the district.

The Atascadero district may become the first large school district in San Luis Obispo County to get a device in each of its students’ hands, but other districts and private schools across the county have embarked on similar endeavors in an effort to prepare their students for future careers and college in the 21st century.

“If you talk to college kids right now, they don’t do anything on paper,” said Ronalee Andersen, supervisor of educational technology for Paso Robles Joint Unified School District. “If that’s the case, then K-12 education in general needs to keep up with that and prepare kids appropriately.”

Paso Robles district administrators are revising their master technology plan, which will be released in late May, but plan to give Chromebooks next year to all sixth- through eighth-graders — about 1,500 students.

“Over the next five years, our technology plan will address every student, K-12, with a device,” Andersen said. About five years ago, the district board approved a policy to allow Paso Robles High students to bring their own computers or tablets from home.

The Coast Unified School District bought 390 iPads in 2012 for students in sixth through 12th grades to use. The district, with 700 students, has since put in place its goal of having a one-to-one student tablet ratio, director of technology Henry Danielson said.

And Cayucos Elementary School District has a one-to-one Chromebook program in its third through eighth grades, Superintendent Anne Hubbard said.

“We have also just asked the Cayucos Educational Foundation to purchase a class set of Chromebooks and a charging cart for second grade,” Hubbard said in an email.

Jim Brescia, county schools superintendent, said students are learning “the skills and the tools they’re going to need to be productive citizens in the 21st century.”

“The kids have more in their hands with a cellphone than we had with entire libraries when I was going through grad school,” he said, “and to be able to leverage this tool to increase your knowledge base is incredible.”

When asked whether there may be any downsides to integrating the technology into classrooms, Brescia said the only issue could be the comfort level and ability of an adult to use the devices as another teaching strategy.

Officials at several districts also said they’re putting filters in place to restrict access and provide security for students.

At Santa Rosa Academic Academy, Allen said several training sessions have been set up for teachers to get ideas on how to use the Chromebooks in class.

Allen and a few teachers said with the one-to-one access, the students are engaged, take more ownership of their work and are building skills that will benefit them in years to come.

“They’re super-engaged,” said Christy Ramsey, who teaches a fourth/fifth-grade combination class. “Everything about it is exciting to them. Every night I’m getting these Google Slides (presentations) ... they’re creating these on their own and sharing them.”

For their part, some students said they were excited about the range of things they could do on the computers.

Fourth-grader Andrea Casey said she’s enjoyed being able to do research, from learning about fractions to searching for information about Mission San Rafael Arcángel, which she chose. She said her sister, a freshman in high school, is doing a lot of research online as well.

“I’m happy that I can do it at this grade and not have to wait until high school,” 9-year-old Casey said.

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929