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Sibley-Ocheyedan board approves laptops for high school students

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SIBLEY, Iowa -- Starting this fall, students at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School will no longer have to fight for computer usage time.

The district's school board unanimously approved the purchase of 260 13-inch, MacBook computers at its July 12 meeting, securing a laptop for each student in grades 9-12.

"We were in dire need of computers at the high school," explained LaDonn Hartzell, the district's business manager. "We were down to about 14 computers that students could actually use so they could run the type of software required for some of their classes."

The lease-to-own computers will cost a total of $344,000 and be paid for through the general fund. Fred Matlage, the district technology director, said the 1:1 laptop initiative was more cost-efficient than the alternative: purchasing 40 new computers at a cost of about $47,000. This way, the laptops can be re-imaged each summer and the seniors' machines can be given to the incoming freshmen class

"Students will have access 24/7 to a computing device that will allow them to do everything from making movies to videos using open office, which is a free version similar to Microsoft Office," he said. "They can surf the Internet and do online research. We are looking at eventually moving from text books to digital books."

Skype, software that allows video conferencing, will also be installed, allowing students to interact with their teachers and classmates.

Hartzell said teachers must currently schedule any technology-aided lessons around laptop availability. The program will give teachers the ability to incorporate computers into the classroom at-will, she said.

Parents and students will sign a form agreeing to appropriate computer conduct.

"The teachers and students are really pumped up for this," said Matlage, who researched the laptop initiative with then-Superintendent Jeff Herzberg.

"This is going to be one of the things that's going to set us apart. I firmly believe that this is the future. ... Students in the district will have better opportunities post-high school with these skills that they're learning here at the high school."