June 19, 2018
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Auburn, Oak Hill students to get laptops for summer

Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal
Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal
Darby Beaulieu, a senior at Oak Hill High School, uses her school laptop to write emails at her kitchen table in her Litchfield home Monday afternoon.
By Bonnie Washuk, Sun Journal

WALES, Maine — Now that school’s out for the summer, Oak Hill High School student Darby Beaulieu, 17, is working three part-time jobs and doing Advanced Placement English homework.

She’s using her school laptop to do schoolwork, check in with teachers and her Facebook page. So are some Auburn Middle School students.

For the first time, Oak Hill High School and the Auburn Middle School sent laptops home with students for the summer.

According to the Maine Department of Education, Oak Hill and Auburn are among the first public schools in Maine to send laptops home for the summer.

“I don’t know that anyone’s done it before,” Jeff Mao, Maine Learning Technology policy director, said.

The state isn’t recommending or discouraging loaning laptops for the summer, Mao said, but is interested in Auburn and Oak Hill’s results.

There is a slight risk if a student moves in the summer, the laptops will go with them, he said. “On the other hand, there’s a lot of great things kids could be doing. For the most part the machines are sitting idle,” Mao said. Auburn and Oak Hill may end up being “a model for other schools.”

Oak Hill sent laptops home with most of its 479 students, those whose parents didn’t opt out, Principal Pat Doyle said. Few parents said no, she said.

The Auburn Middle School sent laptops home with the incoming eighth-graders whose parents signed permission slips. Out of 268 students, 202 have parents’ permission.

The goal is to stop the summer brain drain and keep students academically engaged, educators said. After six weeks of vacation, some students lose some of what they learned in school, experts say.

Oak Hill’s decision to send laptops home happened because half of the students needed computers to do Advanced Placement work or for summer school classes. “We said, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” Doyle said.

Litchfield senior Darby Beaulieu said her AP class meets during the summer, and “we have a lot of work. Our teacher does everything on the Web. All the assignments are there. We have three books to read, a couple of papers to write.”

The laptops are helpful, she said. Last year some students turned in hand-written assignments because they had no computer at home.

Auburn Middle School students won’t be assigned summer work but will be encouraged, said Assistant Superintendent Katy Grondin, who becomes superintendent on July 1.

The laptops will have a program with activities for parents and students in language arts, math, art and music. Students will be encouraged to create a film using those activities. In the fall “we’re doing a film contest,” Grondin said.

Educators have heard complaints that laptops in the summer will mean students spending too much time on Facebook and other social networking sites.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Auburn parent Greg Cuetara said during a recent Auburn School Committee meeting.

Auburn recognizes those concerns, Grondin said. “We’ve provided tips for parents” to help them work with their children so laptops are used appropriately.

Doyle said how students use laptops at home is up to parents. “Parents need to be aware of what their students are doing,” she said. “I get calls that students are on their laptop on Facebook.” In some cases, students were on Facebook with their phones. “With today’s technology there are so many ways for kids to get to social network,” she said. “We need to teach them how to be good citizens in a technological world.”

Both districts have insurance parents can buy that covers most damage, or if the laptops are stolen. The laptops cost about $500 each.

Students will be surveyed this fall to find out how they used their laptops. “We’re hoping students come in ready to get back in full swing without a lot of jump-starting,” Grondin said.

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