Stidham Public Schools is at the forefront of technology integration in Oklahoma, with a 1:1 laptop program that provides every student from pre-K through eighth grade with access to a computer throughout the school day. This isn't bad for a district with 120 students in one school sandwiched between a cow pasture and fields of hay.
Superintendent Bart Banfield engineered the year-old laptop program, leading this district, about 90 minutes from Tulsa, in the shift from paper to pixels. Although 1:1 technology immersion programs are not new in school districts, Stidham is the first in Oklahoma to implement one.
Banfield, 31, a former high school history teacher and basketball coach, quickly embraced the idea of using technology when he took the helm of the district four years ago. At that time Stidham had just received a grant for wireless laptop carts. Banfield wanted to go further, using technology to create a progressive learning environment and breaking stereotypes about rural schools being technologically behind the times.
"Rural schools are thought to just have 4-H clubs and be outdated," says Banfield, who researched programs in Maine and Michigan before creating Stidham's. "We may be as rural as it gets, but we are as progressive with technology as any school in the nation."
Tech Becomes Standard
Every student has access during the day to an IBM Thinkpad laptop, all of which are kept at the school. Computer time varies; pre-K classes, for instance, use them during a special time designated by teachers, while older students use them for longer periods and a variety of assignments. Students also have multiple-choice response systems, a remote control device that lets them answer multiple-choice questions without raising their hands. Their responses are immediately tracked in a teacher's laptop computer, allowing them to see in which subject area students are weak or strong.
Teachers use Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader software and Accelerated Math software on the students' laptops for reading and math skills. Because students work on the laptops independently but at the same time, advanced readers are challenged with more difficult reading material, while those who are struggling can work on remedial lessons. The district spent over $150,000 for the laptops and more for the educational software, with most of the funding coming from the district's own budget.
Banfield and others are convinced the technology immersion is making a difference. Tammy Burns credits her 10-yearold daughter Nikyla's improved test taking to the computers. "She just seems more comfortable working with the computers for tests, homework, almost everything," says Burns.
Third-grade teacher Mandy Buck notes a change in her approach to teaching as well as her students' learning. "I do a lot more work on the front end, researching appropriate Web sites and trying to find as many hands-on activities incorporating the technology," says Buck.
Since the 1:1 program began, Buck has seen a drop in the need to discipline students and a rise in student interest and motivation in lessons. "The kids aren't bored. They're always challenged, because there's always something new and different on the computers. Buck and the district's other teachers each use an HP tablet computer. Their classrooms are equipped with a projection screen that is connected to the tablet and can show the teachers' lessons and notes.
LeAnne Lehring, who has taught for 16 years at Stidham schools, says, "This is one way that we can make sure our students are on par with students from larger public schools."
Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.