It’s relatively rare to find a child who longs for the carefree, play-filled days of summer to end so he or she can return to the more structured days of autumn, filled with school, homework and early bedtimes. Students entering the third grade at St. Michael School in Penn Yan, however, just might fall into that category.
That’s because when they return to school this September, they’ll become the proud owners of brand-new laptop computers. St. Michael eventually hopes to provide laptops for all students in the third through fifth grades, said Principal David Paddock. The school will begin implementing this initiative by providing the computers to the incoming third-graders this fall, and hopes to eventually have laptops for all students in all three of those grades within the next few years, he said.
"We really believe that St. Michael’s should offer every advantage educationally that every other school may be able to do," Paddock said. "We want to be able to provide our kids with up-to-date, appropriate knowledge of computers. Providing individual laptop computers to students midway through their experience at St. Michael’s would help them have that advantage that we want them to have."
There is one caveat, however. Students only will be allowed to use the laptops in class, where they can be supervised, Paddock added. They will not be allowed to take the computers home.
"Upon graduation from St. Michael’s, which is after fifth grade, they will then own the computer and be able to take it home. Parents will be required to come in for a safe Internet-use course because while we believe the computers are a great resource educationally, in the wrong hands or without proper supervision they can be used in the wrong way," he said.
Paddock said he believes the computers will enhance students’ educational experiences. The school already utilizes a number of educational computer programs designed to reinforce lessons in math, English and other subjects, but St. Michael doesn’t have enough desktop computers for all the students in one grade to be working on them at once. Earlier this year St. Michael students wrote letters to students at a school in Kenya and received correspondence in return, and Paddock hopes the laptops will facilitate even more such writing activities.
"I hope to create an e-mail connection between our school and (the Kenyan school) where the kids can have e-mail pen pals. That’s another reason for the computers right now, to connect our kids with the rest of the world. There are going to be lots of practical uses for them," Paddock said.
Students will take notes on their computers during the day, for example, and bring those notes home with them on a flash drive they’ll receive, said second-grade teacher Eileen Wunder.
Wunder said students already are quite familiar with computers by the time they reach third grade. In fact, last year her second-graders put together their own slideshows using Microsoft PowerPoint. Wunder said her students put those slideshows together after she gave them a 10-minute lesson and let them explore the program for a class period.
"It’s like teaching them another language," Wunder said. "They learn it quite quickly when they’re younger. They’re so willing to soak it up at this point."
Today’s children inevitably are going to have to use computers in any career field they go into later in life, Wunder said, so it’s a good idea to help them build their computer skills while they’re young and open to learning.
The students seem to be excited about the prospect of having their own computers, Paddock said. A few parents initially expressed concerns about the laptops and told school officials they didn’t want their children sitting in front of computers all day, but Wunder and Paddock hastened to reassure them that would not be the case.
"It’s not going to replace the hands-on kind of stuff that we do. It’s just going to be used as a tool," Wunder said. "Most parents are excited."
Some parents even were a little surprised that St. Michael was able to provide the laptops, Paddock said. He said the school sees this initiative as an incentive to draw new students to the school, which he said is financially sound and has increased enrollment by nearly 30 students in the last five years.
The school is buying the computers — which will probably be the small netbook style of laptops — at a discounted price from Penn Yan Electronics Inc., and the computers will pay for themselves if they attract even two or three new students to the school, he said.
"Catholic schools have to be able to compete," Paddock said. "People understand the spiritual advantages they get through Catholic schools … but I want people to understand that we are academic schools as well."