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Part 4 of 5: Concerns for parents—how to monitor your child's usage; what's your financial responsibility?

September 16, 2011

Maddie Justis and Rebecca Rainey, eighth grade, use their iPads during a computer class at Culver Community Middle School.

How can parents be sure that their children are doing what they are supposed to with their school-provided computer? After all, the “Internet generation” was so named for a reason: they tend to be more technology-inclined than their parents. The fact has not gone unaddressed by area schools.
“We are giving (students) a device to take home that could be harmful to them,” said Culver Community High School principal Albert Hanselman.
Now that one-to-one allows students to take their computers home, parents may experience some worry about how to monitor their child’s computer time.
School filtering systems are in place to block objectionable content on school grounds and at home, according to LaVille principal Chuck Phillips.
“Anything blocked here is blocked at home,” said Phillips, adding that websites blocked include Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, and PhotoBooth.
When teachers need to use one of these sites, they get them unblocked by the school’s technology department.
Other schools doing one to one have employed some of the same filtering techniques. Unfortunately, Plymouth High School’s system may be too secure.
Kameron Eisenhour, 11th grade, demonstrated how his MacBook would not allow him to look up word definitions on Dictionary.com.
Senior Sam Hellinga said that she likes using her computer better at home, because “there aren’t all these crazy locks.” Hellinga said that she has experienced trouble getting onto websites that shouldn’t be blocked.
Ben Waymouth, PCSC director of media literacy, said that the filtering system is not perfect, but that the school is “trying to err on the side of caution.”
If students do have problems, Waymouth said that they can contact the technology department or visit the group of students trained by Apple to handle problems.
To help parents keep abreast of the shift to computers, Lincoln Jr. High held four informative workshops before the beginning of the school year.
Principal Dan Funston said the workshops were attended by about 300 parents.
“We showed the parents how to monitor in these workshops,” said Funston.
Funston added that parents were given their student’s username and password so they could check up on them and make sure they are using the computer for school work only.
Hanselman recommended several steps that parents could take to monitor their child’s computer use: first, limit the time the child is on the computer and make sure they stay in a common room, said Hanseman.
Secondly, ask your child to show you what they are working on, and check later to make sure they have done it.
Lastly, if parents have questions about activities their child engages in online, they can always ask the teachers what was assigned, said Hanselman.
“The Internet is a great tool if used correctly,” said Hanselman.
Culver Community Middle School principal Julie Berndt said that parents need to realize that while the technology may be new, the material is not.
“They’re doing the same stuff, they just don’t have a spiral notebook and a textbook,” said Berndt.
She added that the more students show their parents what they are doing, the better parents will feel about the move to technology.
In a recent Pilot News survey, 33 percent of responders said that they are concerned about parent’s financial responsibility for their child’s school-provided computer.
Most schools have issued the students protective cases, and instructed them that the devices are to be kept in the cases whenever they aren’t being used.
PHS junior Tyler Shumaker said that he is “worried” about breaking his MacBook.
“That’s why I’m taking very good care of it,” added Shumaker. “It’s never outside it’s case.”
Shumaker said that he likes using his computer to take notes because he is too hyper to write with pen and paper.
While Culver Community Schools offer an insurance option, other schools will be assessing minimal fees to parents if the computers break due to student irresponsibility.
“We have a daily chat about that,” said mom Terri Dehning, whose son Caleb is a sophomore at Culver.
Dehning said that their family has not opted to purchase insurance for Caleb’s iPad. The school, she said, encourages students to put their iPads inside the provided zippered case (referred to fondly as a “cocoon”) when not in use.
Funston said that if a student’s computer breaks because of an accident, the school will pay for damages. However, a fee will be charged if the computer breaks because of student irresponsibility: $50 for the first offense and $100 for the second.
“I don’t anticipate there would be a second time,” added Funston.
Funston also pointed out that the fees are similar to textbook replacement fees.
At LaVille, Phillips said that the school will be paying the warranty for the computers the first year, and after that would be offering insurance.
One LaVille student had already dropped their computer, but “we could fix that one,” said Phillips, laughing.
He added that students should use caution when leaving their power cables out around pets — animals have a tendency to gnaw on the cords.
More than one school reported that they are considering selling the computers to the students after their lease with Apple is up. This would enable students to keep a device they have had years to become familiar with.
“We’ve got some options there,” said Phillips.

Tomorrow: The future of technology at school: What to expect in the next few years.

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