Richfield Middle School rolls out 1:1 device program for sixth-graders

Lindsay Klingneil, from Best Buy Education, hands out a Chromebook to Leonardo Morales, who, along with the rest of his grade at Richfield Middle School, will take his new device to and from school as part of the school district’s new 1:1 Chromebook program, which was three years in the making. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

For the first time in the Richfield School District, an entire grade level is getting mobile electronic devices to take home.

The district’s technology department spent the day Thursday, Aug. 31, handing out about 280 Chromebooks to sixth-graders at Richfield Middle School, with 100 of the laptop learning devices remaining to be handed out the first day of school.

The “1:1” program is a direct result of a $900,000 per year technology levy approved by voters in 2013. “And it’s been kind of the culmination of three years of planning,” District Technology Director Anthony Padrnos said.

The plan is to expand the program to the rest of the middle school next year, add grades 9 and 10 at the high school the following year, and have the devices in the hands of all students in grades 6-12 the years after that.

The goal is to provide access to technology that “will prepare them for today’s and tomorrow’s careers and post-secondary educational opportunities,” Padrnos said.

Students already have in-school access to Chromebooks stored on carts that travel from classroom to classroom, but the 1:1 program ensures students from all backgrounds have round-the-clock access to the same technology.

Specifically, the sixth-graders are learning on the Asus c202, a Chromebook model marketed to young students. Chromebooks run on web-based software as stripped-down versions of traditional laptop computers. Each one costs the district about $270, including the case, according to Padrnos.

Richfield Middle School isn’t the district’s first foray into the 1:1 model. About five years ago, students in one fourth-grade class at Centennial Elementary School all received iPads to take home.

“It was a good experience for the kids and a good learning experience for the staff,” Padrnos said. While the pilot program served as a testing ground for the model, it is being phased out, he added.

The district now plans to provide one digital learning devices for every two students in kindergarten through grade 5, according to Padrnos. That plan is on a four-year timeline, he said.

Richfield is getting help from its hometown retail giant to roll out the program, with several representatives from Best Buy on hand last week to hand out the Chromebooks.

“We’re passionate about helping students further their educations with the help of technology because we know the important role it plays in future careers,” said Dave Donarski, account manager for Best Buy Education.

“We’re particularly grateful for this opportunity to provide our hometown students with laptops and cases, and look forward to hearing more about the great things they’re able to accomplish with these tools.”

With lots of help behind him, Padrnos is finally seeing the fruits of his labor.

“It’s been three years in the making to get to this day, and now that it’s in the hands of the kids, we get to see what happens in the classroom and how it transforms learning,” Padrnos said. “It’s going to be awesome.”

Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @RISunCurrent.