CLEARWATER — The Amazon Kindle is untested as a textbook replacement in public high schools. Then again, so were books before Gutenberg invented his press.
But as the 2,000-plus students at Clearwater High School received their very own, personalized Kindle e-readers Thursday, the embrace was rapid.
For many, the device represented a good-riddance moment: the brick-like weight of a backpack full of textbooks and prohibition from writing in books. For others, it was simply, unabashedly, exciting. Being part of an international first was cool.
"This is great," said Desmond King, 17, a junior and linebacker for the Clearwater High Tornadoes.
After receiving his Kindle — loaded with books personally tailored to his class schedule — King eagerly showed off the device.
"It's fun to have electronics to learn," he said. "I think it makes us want to study more without realizing it."
As the devices were handed out to one class at a time in the auditorium, "Kindle" was the word among students milling in the hallways.
"Did you get your Kindle yet?"
"I'm about to go mess around with my Kindle!"
"I'm going to get my Kindle right now!"
Whether the devices will boost reading and studying habits, or make textbook purchases more cost-effective, will be seen as the "Kindle-ization" of Clearwater High moves forward.
For junior Kierstin Berrian, 17, the benefits have already begun.
"It will be a weight off my back — literally," Berrian said. Some students are assigned as many as six textbooks, she said — dozens of pounds to lug to school.
One bad reading habit — skipping over big words — can no longer be justified by excuses like, "I didn't have a dictionary."
The device has a built-in dictionary, which displays definitions for highlighted words. "It helps with reading comprehension," said senior Bennie Niles, 17.
Another feature he is excited about is the text-to-speech capability. Press a button, and a well-inflected computer voice says the word aloud.
And learning curve? For students who do not know a world without mobile computing, no big deal.
"It's just like texting," said senior Gabrielle Adams, 17, about inputting notes.
"And everybody knows how to text," Niles said.
When the idea was first proffered by principal Keith Mastorides last year, some students were skeptical it would actually happen.
"Especially not this school," said senior Matt Jonson, 17.
"Maybe a nicer school," added Adams.
Voices such as these are part of the reason Mastorides said he pushed to make the project a reality — to give students a more level playing field and prepare them for a more networked world.
"He's a man of his word," Niles said. "Not a lot of people thought it would happen. And now here we are with the Kindles."
The school district is also excited. Beyond the inquiries from schools around the country, and world, about the Kindle's viability in the classroom, there are some slight financial benefits.
John Just, Pinellas County's assistant superintendent for management information systems, said that because of savings on books, the school's English department's wish list was completely fulfilled.
"The English department wish list is always that — a wish list," Just said. "Now they're all downloaded."
These include trendy titles like Superfreakonomics and Into the Wild.
Despite the wide-eyed excitement of receiving a hot piece of tech, students are aware that the Kindle is a tool — not a magic bullet.
"It's up to the student at this point," said senior Cassie Naja, 17.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.