Laptop initiative revisited



PITTSFIELD - Middle school students in the Pittsfield schools will again have the option of bringing home laptop computers for school projects - this time free of charge.


Assistant Superintendent Keith Babuszczak said the district has dropped a $50 user fee established under the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative. The three-year project aimed at transforming teaching, learning, and communication in the middle school grades in Pittsfield and North Adams ended this summer.


While Pittsfield is continuing the initiative without the fee, public school parents who want the laptops to come home must attend information sessions next week at Reid and Herberg middle schools. The gatherings will include a presentation by the Berkshire District Attorney's office on Internet safety and cyber bullying.


Last year, an Internet safety course was dropped as a requirement since most parents had already gone through it. But now "there's different information on Internet safety and also new information about the laptop project," said Babuszczak.


"We really want everyone on the same page about the initiative and to keep children safe using the Internet," he added.


Pittsfield public schools are trying to continue the laptop program at minimal cost.


"There's not much of an added cost as we are not buying new computers," said Babuszczak. "Our technicians will continue to repair the ones we have, which are in their fourth year."


Pittsfield has about 1,370 laptops - one for each middle-school student - but the Apple G4 wireless iBooks are wearing out due to heavy use and accidental damage.


"They are very difficult to repair because Apple has stopped making replacement screens," said Babuszczak, who added that nearly 200 screens were replaced in the last school year.


School officials want any new laptop problems reported immediately.


"Some students may be reluctant to report a problem for fear they will be in trouble," Babuszczak said, hoping that preventive maintenance will help alleviate those fears.


Meanwhile, North Adams has been expanding its laptop program beyond Conte Middle School.


Superintendent James Montepare said Drury High School received 75 computers last year that proved to be geared more for younger students. So when the district buys additional laptops that are user friendly for high-school students, the city's three elementary schools will get the 75 laptops from Drury.


North Adams still charges the $50 user fee for students who bring the laptops home.


"We've never (kept) a student from taking home a computer if they can't pay," Montepare said.


The educational benefit of the laptop initiative seems to outweigh cost recovery.


"We've had great success at the middle school," Montepare added. "The students not only benefit, but the teachers find it enhances their teaching style."