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For summer students in Boston, new laptops

City hopes use limits dropouts

The Boston School Department is planning to make low-cost laptops a central feature of summer school for ninth-graders, as it combats a recent uptick in high school drop-out rates.

School officials hope the introduction of the Google Chromebooks will entice more students to attend summer school and pass their courses, which in turn could increase their odds of completing high school. They are targeting ninth-graders because they are the most likely to quit school.

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“We see technology as a powerful tool in the classroom,” said Mary Skipper, the School Department’s network superintendent for high schools. “We know from kids’ own words telling us what technology means to them. It’s the way they learn and take information. . . . If we can keep them on track and in school, we will not have a drop-out issue and we will have an amazing graduation rate.”

The computers are coming as the high school drop-out rate in Boston has started to climb again after years of decline. The rate has incrementally increased from a historic low of 5.7 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 6.4 percent, about 1,200 students, last year.

Lee McGuire, a School Department spokesman, said officials are concerned about the increase but noted that last year’s rate is still among the lowest recorded in the system in decades.

The School Department decided to go with the Chromebooks, which revolve around Google’s popular Chrome Web browser, because of their relative low cost and their durability. The department purchased 250 education-model Chromebooks for $479 apiece, using funds it secured from “Race to the Top,” a federal education grant created by the Obama administration.

Under the program, ninth-graders who have failed both Algebra I and English 9 at the end of this school year will be eligible to enroll in summer school, although participation is not mandatory. The students will use the Internet-based Chromebooks in those courses, and they will not be allowed to take them home.


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About 600 ninth-graders enroll in summer school each year.

Jenel Flounoury, an 11th-grader from Dorchester who is enrolled at the Re-Engagement Center, an alternative program, said he thinks the Chromebooks could benefit students at summer school.

“It would encourage them to do more work,” Flounoury said. “A lot of people don’t have Internet access in their homes.”

After the summer session ends, the Chromebooks will not go in storage, Skipper said. The School Department will use them for a new online high school it is planning to start for the next school year, specifically targeting students who are struggling in traditional school settings.

Boston is among a growing number of school districts across the nation that are bringing more portable devices into the classroom as a way to reinvigorate instruction and better connect lessons to a tech-savvy group of students. Mayor Thomas M. Menino has set a goal of adding 10,000 laptops, tablets, and other devices to the city’s schools.

Bringing Chromebooks to summer school sounds like a good idea, said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, a nonprofit organization that partners with the city school’s on high school drop-out issues.

“It just makes sense to change the game,” Sullivan said. “The summer learning loss issue is huge if you are dealing with students who have fallen behind.”

James Vaznis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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