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Beverly High to require costly MacBooks in ’11

By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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BEVERLY — Beverly High School will require all students to bring their own laptop computer to class beginning in fall 2011, a move that school officials say will bring educational advantages in an increasingly high-tech world.

But some parents are questioning the requirement because the school has decreed that the laptops must be Apple MacBooks, which cost $900, rather than personal computers, which usually are less expensive.

“I don’t know how people are going to do it. People don’t have the money for that. A lot of people can’t even afford to eat right now. That’s wrong,’’ said Lisa McKenna, who will have two daughters at the high school next year. Her family uses PCs rather than Macs, she said.

The 1,200-student Beverly school will be one of a few in the state to require every student to have his or her own laptop.

Superintendent James Hayes Jr. said the school will help families obtain computers.

Parents will be able to lease MacBooks for $25 per month, with an option to buy.

Children of low-income families will be offered free or discounted computers, Hayes said, and students who cannot lease or purchase laptops will given a MacBook to use free during the day, although they will not be allowed to take computers home.

He said PCs will not be compatible with the computer network at Beverly’s new $80 million high school, scheduled to open in November and where wireless computer access will be a key component to learning.

“If everyone has the same laptop, then it’s no longer about the tool, it’s about how we use it,’’ said Hayes, who added that students will use laptops for collaborative learning, video-conferencing, e-mail, and to access design programs.

The new four-story school will also have an on-site Apple tech center, which will loan computers to students whose laptops are being repaired.

School officials have spent the past two years gearing up for the laptop program.

Hayes said the school district had been unable to find a private foundation or business to underwrite the laptop program.

Mayor William Scanlon Jr. said he supports the program but declined to comment on the possible economic impact on families. “I’m hopeful it’s going to be a good idea,’’ he said.

In Boston, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School has had a laptop program for the past four years. Students also use MacBooks provided by the school.

The laptops remain on campus after class because educators do not want children to be targeted on their way home.

More than 200 of the 670 students at the Dorchester school have also received a free PC for home use, paid for with the help of a nonprofit.

Debra Socia, principal at Lilla G. Frederick, said students use laptops to take practice online MCAS tests, and use computer programs to conduct virtual science labs, create geometric shapes with online protractors, and compose their own music with Garage Band.

Socia said the laptop program also had significant environmental benefits.

“It certainly saves a lot of money,’’ she said. “I’m not using paper as much, I don’t buy as many textbooks.’’

Steven Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com.

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