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Grant Provides New Chromebooks

New Chromebooks for the Entire District

The lights were off in Alica Brantz’s seventh-grade classroom at South Milwaukee Middle School, and a sign on the door asked for quiet in the halls as her students took the i-Ready assessment. Brantz glided through the room, checking on her students, whose faces were lit by the sleek new black Chromebook computers they used to take the test.

If just one class were issued the new computers, that might not be big news, but this school year every single South Milwaukee student in grades 1-12 was issued a new computer thanks to a $1.1 million federal Emergency Connectivity Fund grant designed to support remote learning and connectivity in schools. 

“We bought them so that we would have one model throughout the district, instead of four different makes/models. This makes repair, replacement, and troubleshooting much easier,” said Brian Gannon, the district’s student learning and technology coordinator.

Chromebooks are laptop computers that use Google’s operating system and have word-processing, video, presentation, and email software (among others) built right in. They update themselves, have strong security safeguards, and can be managed as a group for things like giving or restricting student access to non-school-related content. 
There is also software for classroom management for teachers (Google Classroom) and from the student perspective, all work the same way so a teacher can help an individual student with a project or give instructions to the whole class without worrying that it might look different on different machines.  

Though Chromebooks all run the same software, models from varied manufacturers behave differently, might have unique chargers, etc. South Milwaukee had four different models in circulation among students that were between one and four years old (relatively ancient for a computer) in various conditions from everyday wear-and-tear. 

The new devices cost $395 each and were purchased in April. At the end of the 2021-22 school year, students turned in their old devices, which were put to good use.

“Many were sold to a vendor for parts, others are being used as loaners in classrooms and school libraries,” Gannon said.

This summer, South Milwaukee IT staff spent their time assessing the usefulness of the old machines and unboxing and assigning the new machines. 

“Step one was to unbox 1,500 devices for the middle and high schools,” Gannon said. “The remaining 1,300 boxes were sent to the elementary schools to be distributed to students.” 

One-to-one computing – that is giving each student a laptop – made remote learning during the pandemic possible. It’s also likely that not every South Milwaukee family has a computer at home – let alone one for each of their children to do homework at the same time, so providing one is a necessity, Middle School Principal Jim Hendrickson said. 
“Students – particularly at the secondary level – use their computers for notes, writing papers, or preparing presentations. These are skills they’ll need in the career and professional world. I’m encouraged and thankful that we can provide new, trouble-free computers so our students can focus on their work and not technology issues.”