BRANDON — Twenty technology-savvy students at Brandon High School's Academy of Information Technology have take-home laptop computers for the school year. The laptop program, which started in January, could be an indication of what's to come in the future.
On a normal day at the information technology academy, Joshua Haley pops open his laptop and maybe types a few notes during class. He puts the Omega calculator that's on his computer to use graphing or computing a calculus or physics problem. After lunch, he might shoot an e-mail to one of his teachers to confirm the due date of a project.
Other tech students use their laptops to research a question during class, allowing them to have a deeper discussion with their teacher. Assignments for almost all of their subjects can be done on their laptops and uploaded on the school's server for access at school or home.
"Each student has his own space from the domain server," said Haley. "My laptop makes me efficient in all of my classes. I can do three-dimensional graphs, something my calculator just can't do."
Brandon's idea for take-home laptops was launched in 2006, when technology instructor Jean Gordon and other school officials visited Crooms Academy of Information Technology in Orlando. Crooms now has 600 laptops for their students. Students can access the Internet at many wireless hot spots in school and the laptops are integrated into every subject.
"By going to Crooms, we found out things that were helpful to get our program going, like the kind of computer cases we should order for our students and what kind of insurance we would need to cover them," Gordon said. "Results are the key — things that worked for them and things that didn't.
One upside of giving kids take-home laptops: the ability to bridge the gap for students who don't have a computer or Internet access at home. It also eliminates a time-honored excuse. There's no more forgetting a book at home or at school because many textbooks are available online.
So far, Brandon's technology academy is the only high school information technology academy in Hillsborough County and the only school in the county offering take-home laptops.
Terry Senhauser, a fourth-grade teacher at Nelson Elementary School in Dover, expects every student to eventually have a laptop to use in every class.
The school district's technology plan allocates $2.8-million a year for equipment replacement until 2010. The objective is to systematically replace old computers after six or seven years.
Whether the replacement computers are desktops or laptops is still up for discussion. The technology plan is updated every year, but there are no immediate plans for large-scale laptop purchases.
"Presently, it's not cost effective," district spokeswoman Linda Cobb said.
Recent efforts to switch to laptops are done with grants that the Brandon technology academy received or through partnerships like Crooms has with Dell.
"We're still independently exploring technology on our own. We need to work on formalizing technology into education," Gordon said.