BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — Middle school students in the region's largest school district will have new portable computers next year.
The Traverse City Area Public Schools board voted this week to purchase 3,200 netbooks, which essentially are small laptops. That number is enough to assign one device to each of the district's middle school students and replace several computers already in use throughout the district's elementary schools.
The district will spend $1.8 million for the netbooks — Lenovo ThinkPads, specifically — with money coming from the district's 2007 bond. The board at the same meeting also voted to spend nearly $1 million on 10 new buses and about $300,000 on lighting renovations at several elementary schools, also with bond money.
The district's high school students have had similar devices since the 2011-12 school year, Superintendent Stephen Cousins said. Students can create and store notes and databases, receive instruction, take tests, submit assignments and much more on the devices, which they are allowed to take home.
"The idea behind this is to give them a tool to access resources to learn 24/7," Cousins said.
Middle school students previously shared a much smaller number of computers, Cousins said, largely at in-school computer labs. Giving each student a computer — which they will return at the end of the year for programming and software upgrades — is expected to enhance the learning experience.
"The teachers at the high schools reported that engagement is better when students have their own device to use," Cousins said.
School board President Kelly Hall said the devices will give teachers a "second pair of hands" to better instruct students. It also allows more time for hands on instruction, she said. For example, students could be assigned a lecture to watch at home, then discuss it with the teacher in the classroom.
Besides that, kids are more in tune with — and excited by — technology than ever before.
"Kids are very technologically savvy these days," Hall said. "Offering this technology gives them the world at their fingertips."