Rockbridge students get high-tech tools for in, out of classroom

Maury River Middle sixth-graders participating in Chromebook pilot program

ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. – Students in Rockbridge County just got a new tool to help them in and out of the classroom.

Thursday, teachers handed out Chromebooks to every sixth-grader at Maury River Middle School. They're the first students to participate in Rockbridge County Schools' Chromebook pilot program.

"This is a long time in the making," said Phillip Thompson, superintendent of Rockbridge County Public Schools. "We’ve been working for well over four to five years just to prepare for this day. I don’t think most people realize that it’s a lot of work behind the scenes to prepare for this, to get teachers ready to teach in this manner and get students ready to learn in this manner. And it’s exciting that we’re finally here."

Students will keep the Chromebooks until they finish middle school and can use them at school and take them home. School administrators said this marks a change in how teachers help students learn.

"We’re really trying to get deeper, authentic learning for our students, more student-centered learning as opposed to the old teacher-centered model," said Jason Kirby, director of personnel and technology. "We really want our students doing hands-on creating, collaborating, critical thinking, all of those important things."

Dalton Woody, a Maury River sixth-grader, said he's excited to use his Chromebook.

"I love this Chromebook, that it could help me do my homework and help me get better grades," Dalton said. 

Teachers have spent the past three years learning how to integrate this technology into their lessons. The district also has an instructional technology resource teacher to help teachers and students. 

"We use things like Google Classroom, many different websites. We like the ability to collaborate with each other through all of the Google tools that we use. It really brings a lot of possibilities to us that we didn’t have before," Kirby said.

Sixth-grade students attended an assembly Thursday to learn the do's and don'ts of being a good digital citizen, including ways to stay safe online and keep their devices secure. Kirby said the Chromebooks have security measures to prevent students from looking at inappropriate materials, even when they're at home.

"Once it goes online it can never be taken away and we’re trying to really, really emphasize that with our students so they learn here how to use the Chromebook and how to use other social media tools effectively," Kirby said.

Teachers also have the ability to monitor what students are doing on their Chromebooks in class. 

School leaders are working to expand the program to all middle schoolers next year and to the high school in the next three or four years.

"This is just another step to help prepare them for jobs, some of which haven’t been invented yet, and we need to prepare them to use all these tools because they’re going to see them later on," Thompson said.

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