MARCH 25, 2010 ISSUE

A Laptop for Every Student

One-to-One Transformation Coming to New Watauga High School Story by Sam Calhoun

Dell Computer’s E5400 laptop model will find its way into the hands of all 1,420 students at the new Watauga High School this fall. “We call it the ‘one-to-one transformation’ because it’s a new way to go to school,” said Scarlet Davis, assistant superintendent of Watauga County Schools.

When the doors of the new Watauga High School swing open this fall, students will not only be walking into a new building, they will also be steps away from becoming a connected member of the global community. Each student at Watauga High School—all 1,420 of them—will receive a laptop starting in fall 2010 that they can use at school and take home for independent study; the computers will only have to be returned each summer for maintenance.

“We call it the ‘one-to-one transformation’ because it’s a new way to go to school,” said Scarlet Davis, assistant superintendent of Watauga County Schools. “All students will receive a laptop—it’s comprehensive. If you are a student at Watauga High School, you’re getting one.”

And if you’re a teacher at Watauga High School, you’re getting one, too. According to Davis, the 110 teachers at the high school will each receive a laptop, along with some administrative personnel, translating into a total of 1,550 laptops.

To connect each of the laptops to the global community, North Carolina is providing free internet access to all 115 school districts in the state. North Carolina is one of the first states to provide that service, according to Davis.

“That’s huge,” added Davis, who said Watauga County Schools is working with the state to provide reduced rates for internet access for students’ homes. The school system is also working with area restaurants to convince owners to provide free wi-fi. The thought is that providing wi-fi will translate into more student customers for the businesses because students would congregate near wi-fi hot spots when not in school. “It’s going to be a total community effort,” she said. “Students will be able to have a global experience right here in Watauga County.”

Last week, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $1,804,909.52 to buy 1,550 laptops, which will be supplied by Computer Software Innovations of Easley, S.C. The laptops will be the Dell E5400 model, and each will come with a four-year warranty and accidental damage insurance. The commissioners are still in negotiations with Computer Software Innovations concerning laptop cost, which is expected to drop before the final contract is signed.

“We’re still pursuing funding. We’re in the running for several grants [to pay for the laptops] and we’re working with corporate donors—we’re still looking for new individual and corporate donors, too,” said Davis. “I think we’ll have a very nice package for much less than $1.8 million.

“We were buying new technology for the school anyway; now, we just won’t have computer labs. Fourteen computer labs were originally planned for the new high school,” explained Davis.

The idea behind one-to-one began 15 years ago, said Davis, but it is now “the coming wave” for North Carolina schools.

“It carries an equity factor. The laptops will level the playing field in many ways for our students,” said Davis.

It is important to remember, however, that the one-to-one idea only works in an efficacious classroom setting, said Davis. 

“Our teachers are our most valuable resource. We want to make sure we place our main focus on teachers and students and not just the equipment,” said Davis. “These devices are useless if we don’t have good teachers and engaged students.”