Here's one way to lighten a student's backpack: say goodbye to textbooks.
Clearwater High School next year will replace traditional textbooks with e-readers. The gadgets will be fully loaded with all the textbooks students need, minus all the paper.
For rising junior Bennie Niles, 17, it could mean accessing English, math and physics texts via a handheld device more on par with the technology he and his peers use every day.
"It gives you the ability to be more fluent," Niles said as he held a Kindle reader. "It helps you have a better understanding and comprehension of the text."
Though the school hasn't settled on a vendor, school officials are negotiating with Amazon Kindle to try to equip all 2,100 students with the 10-ounce devices this fall.
Already, the school issued e-readers to all 100 of its teachers.
Clearwater could be the first high school attempting such a sweeping shift with the Kindle.
John Just, assistant superintendent for the district's management information systems, said Kindle officials told the district that no other high school had embarked on such an effort. Schools elsewhere have used e-readers, but mostly on a per class basis. A Massachusetts boarding school recently made waves by completely digitizing its library.
The St. Petersburg Times could not reach anyone at Amazon Kindle to comment on the uniqueness of Clearwater's e-reader foray.
Principal Keith Mastorides said he was inspired to make the switch earlier this school year after campus surveys revealed a desire to integrate more technology with classroom instruction.
"When you think about students today, three-quarters of their day is spent on some kind of electronic device," Mastorides said. "We're just looking at textbooks a little differently."
Kindles are listed on Amazon.com for $259 a piece. That price doesn't include the cost of purchasing the electronic texts, which are typically far less than hard copies.
Students won't have the ability to purchase texts that the district hasn't already approved and purchased itself. Should a student lose a device, Just said, the text can be retrieved by a replacement.
At first blush, the expense appears a savings over traditional textbooks. Books can cost between $70 and $90 each. A typical high school student would have about seven.
But Just said it's too soon to estimate cost savings. He said the school hopes to strike a deal to pay less per Kindle while bundling in the price of the texts, technical support, teacher training and insurance.
More than likely, he said, parents will be offered insurance to cover the cost of damage that might occur off school property.
Besides offering an electronic format to read books, newspapers and magazines, the Kindle allows users to get word definitions, bookmark pages, highlight text and type notes they might otherwise scribble in the margins of a hard-bound book.
It also offers limited Internet access via a free 3G network. Students will be required to sign an agreement stating they will not use it to access inappropriate websites. The Kindle boasts a rechargeable battery life of one week when the wireless is turned on, two weeks when it isn't. Additionally, it has the capability to convert text to voice so that users can listen to the books.
Clearwater is prepared to spend about $600,000, Just said. That's money allocated to the school for technology and classroom materials over six years. But the district has agreed to juggle grants to help the school borrow the money from the district in advance.
What about those people not ready to go high-tech? Every class will have hard copy textbooks on hand.
But even a self-described "dinosaur" such as Kathy Biddle, who has been teaching more than 31 years, said she's excited about how it might enhance her world history and sociology classes.
"I think it's the way kids are thinking today," Biddle said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and photojournalist Douglas Clifford contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.