Laptops making end of summer more palatable for Huntsville school students

August 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — there was never any great excitement for most of us on the days when school textbooks were distributed. That was the last and heaviest reminder that the bliss of summer had been stolen away by the folks determined to educate us.

laptops.JPGThe Huntsville Times/Glenn BaeskeHP laptops await distribution to Huntsville school students

They were usually waxy covered, thick and well-worn books, passed down from one class to the next like an older sibling’s blue jeans.

With a rare bit of luck, you might have inherited one from a diligent note-taker who highlighted important information. More often, it had been used by a girl whose in-the-margins doodling indicated a fervent hope to one day become “Mrs. David Cassidy.” (Note to this generation: he was an early version of Justin Bieber, but with a cool bus.)

The Huntsville City Schools system is in the process of distributing the Bieber-era version of textbooks. It has 17,254 HP laptop computers and 5,064 iPads for its students.

Suddenly, there’s some excitement, even as the school year looms like an executioner over the freedom of summer.

Jalen Roberts is a senior at Lee High School. she picked up her laptop Tuesday afternoon during an “early-bird” availability.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s about an 8,” she said of her excitement level.

On a typical textbook-issuing day, “It’s about a 1,” she said. “Carry all these books, your back would hurt.”

“It’s going to be a great learning tool,” said her mother, Dena.

The laptop program puts Huntsville’s system at the technological forefront in this area. the computers are not merely to replace textbooks; they are to enable students to connect to the on-line curriculum and provide instant feedback and accountability.

“The dog ate my homework” is now officially an excuse to be retired.

It’ll be replaced, I suspect, by “my battery died.”

There are obvious other concerns and problems. any parents with teenagers who haven’t remembered to turn off a bathroom light since the Bush Administration immediately think “lost” and “stolen.”

Brian Blackman, the program administrator who provided me an inside tour on Tuesday, commissioned a poster to be made. It hangs on the wall over a waiting area:

“Responsibility Educates,” it says.

In other places using the system, “kids and family both took this seriously,” Blackman said.

These laptops have a Computrace system to find lost and stolen machines and render them nonfunctional. each student has an individual log-in code for the particular computer.

The former colonel, school Superintendent Casey Wardynski, would be proud of the military precision put into the distribution process by workers and a team of volunteers.

The laptops arrived on June 22, stored in a warehouse with 24-hour security. the cartons were opened, each computer screened, then reboxed with a power cord and bag, the boxes labeled with schools’ names.

Tuesday’s “early bird” session was targeted to Butler, Columbia, Johnson and Lee. other schools have designated days, though there is flexibility. (See the hope is that 60 percent of the laptops will be distributed before schools starts, enabling the students to have some practice and familiarity.

The process took 20 minutes or so, from filling out forms to cross-checking names, paying the $35 user fee, issuing the laptop and running through a quick test.

Those picking up computers will find the distribution site is well-marked, on Dunlop Road, which intersects Wall-Triana on the airport side of Madison.

Along with many signs indicating the warehouse, there are several that boast the Huntsville City Schools’ motto and logo.

“Where Young Futures Take Flight,” it reads. It features a yellow cylinder spewing smoke from its base, indicating a launch. the yellow object is this strange, nearly obsolete relic.

Contact Mark McCarter at and follow him on Twitter @markmccarter

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!