TRACY - Since the beginning of March, students at Tracy Area High School have had another resource at their fingertips - a mobile Netbook lab - thanks to the effort of their teaching staff and support from their community.
During a professional learning communities (PLC) nearly a year ago, TAHS English teachers Lynn Krause and Eve Schmidt, along with special education teacher Jason Kainz and technology coordinator Alex Kells, came up with the idea of a new lab.
"We worked on writing a bunch of grants and ended up getting a big donation," Krause said. "It's been very, very nice to have in the classroom."
Tracy Area High School sophomores, including Brian Fultz, left, Jordan Lanoue and Taylor Schmidt, are engaged while working on new Netbooks in English teacher Lynn Krause’s class Monday. An education grant provided by Minnwest Bank South of Tracy and an anonymous donor allowed for the purchase of 30 Netbooks for the school.
Minnwest Bank South of Tracy supplied $10,000 for the grant, while another $3,000 came from an anonymous donation. Minnwest Bank South President Ivan VanEssen said that the bank has been working with Tracy Area Public Schools for about three years.
"As employees of the bank, we challenged ourselves on what we should be doing in the community," VanEssen said. "They approached us on trying to get a new computer lab put in the school and wondered if we'd be interested. We decided that was what we'd like to do. We're always looking for projects that touch as many kids as possible in the education system."
TAHS Principal Chad Anderson said that even in tough economic times, educators want to do their best to keep up with the rest of the world.
"The key for us in education is to constantly try to keep up with technology and make sure the students have some of the latest things," Anderson said. "Technology in the last five years has just exploded with the amount of things that have changed. The new Netbook lab is another step in that direction."
VanEssen said he was very happy with the project.
"They go with the SMART Boards at school, so anything that is more instant for the kids, is good," VanEssen said. "That's their world now. The labs came down in price, so that made it much more feasible and quicker to get. We're very happy with it and I think the school is very elated."
The lab consists of 30 computers and are kept on a cart that can be wheeled from room to room by teachers who have signed up for it.
"The wireless modem is in the cart," Anderson said. "So technically, sitting at their desks, students can access the Internet, print to the library printer and use Microsoft applications. They're getting lots of use, but we're handling them like fine china."
Since the English department at TAHS helped to implement the mobile lab, those teachers have priority.
"We'll start using it for research papers about mid-April till the end of the year instead of tying up the other computer labs every day," Krause said. "It's nice because I can show them how to format their papers by modeling it from the SMART Board. It saves on time."
On Monday, Krause's sophomore English class used the Netbooks for interactive quizzes.
"This class has used the lab the most so far," Krause said. "There's a lot of interactive websites that prepare them for MCA II tests. They're a lot more engaged on them rather than using paper and pencil."
Krause said that the students still get practice using the old methods of preparation, but that they love the Netbooks.
"That's their life," Krause said. "Everything is about technology. That's how they do things, so the more you can give them, the better."
The sophomore class agreed.
"I like them," Jenna Stoneberg said. "They're more fun than just having a teacher get up there and talk. They're more modern."
Chou Lee also appreciated what the new lab had to offer.
"It's easier to do stuff," Lee said. "You don't have to carry things to class. You can do stuff at home, like go to websites and study."
Not having to leave the classroom to use one of the other computer labs is also beneficial.
"The new lab has been in high demand," Anderson said. "The kids and teachers absolutely love it. Having the technology in your classroom that you can just tie directly to your curriculum without having to leave the room, makes the connection that much stronger."
If the cart is plugged in overnight and teachers connect it into their computer while students are using it, the Netbooks stay charged for the entire day.
"They have plenty of battery life," Krause said. "It's been very efficient. It has everything that a computer lab has and it's right in the classroom. I really appreciate that, especially with all the snow days we've had."
With the Netbook lab as an asset to the school, Anderson said he will continue looking toward the future, where he visualizes an additional mobile lab, but this time an iPad one.