Clarksville: Initiative Taking the Lead With School Laptops (Technology Advancements | Honorable Mention 5,000-20,000)

Motorists driving into Clarksville on Interstate 40 notice a billboard that says, “Tomorrow’s Classroom Today.”

The sign is referring to the program the Clarksville School District started in the fall of 2011 in which every student in grades 7-12 receives a netbook, a type of laptop computer, which he or she can take home. The program makes Clarksville possibly the first school district in Arkansas that assigns students a computer they return at the end of the school year, just as they would a textbook.

The initiative has earned Clarksville honorable mention recognition as a 2012 Arkansas Business City of Distinction for technology advancements.

The program “is forever changing the way teachers and students interact with one another in and out of the classroom,” said Travis Stephens, CEO of the Clarksville Johnson County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The students use their netbooks to complete class assignments, research projects and do homework. The district has rewritten its curriculum to integrate the use of the netbooks into the classrooms.

“Students will be immersed in a collaborative, project based, digital learning environment not unlike the environment they will encounter in college or today’s job market,” the school district said on its website.

The district’s pupils also will be prepared for 2014, when students across the country will have online testing assessments.

Not only do students benefit from the program, so do their parents, Stephens said.

“Since the netbooks are going home with the students, the school is encouraging parents to work with their students and gain familiarity with the online research and interaction environment,” he said.

The program cost about $500,000 and the money came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The district bought 1,100 netbooks and planned to buy another 250 for sixth-graders this school year. The district will save money over the long run by not having to buy as many textbooks, Stephens said.

The program has already shown signs that it works. Teachers are posting videos to YouTube to enhance their instructions, and students are using the netbooks to create blogs and classroom presentations.

“A student who is career and college ready is proficient in skills related to researching, using technology, collaborating with others, and communicating with others,” Stephens said, adding that Clarksville’s district “provides the opportunity to expose students to these burgeoning skills.”

The program also has made the city of nearly 9,200 proud.

“Residents now view the school and their city as one of the most proactive and progressive in the state and even the country,” Stephens said.