Lucas Campeau, a junior at Caro High School, recently spent an hour of independent study working on the economics behind opening a McDonald’s restaurant franchise.
The technology he used — from his computer to the lightning speed Wi-Fi network at Caro High — made it easy to quickly find the information he sought, right down to the company’s stock price in real-time.
It’s the kind of thing students at Caro Community Schools are getting used to these days, where a $1.5 million technology upgrade is in its final stages.
Staff and students like Campeau are “lovin’ it.”
“Not every school system has something like this, and when you go to college you’re going to use laptops a lot more,” Campeau said. “This gets us ready for that experience, and the real world.”
Campeau and all students at Caro Community Schools stand to benefit from a $12.5 million bond approved by district voters in February 2015.
From a new auditorium and new drinking fountains to upgrades at playgrounds and athletic amenities, the bond is supporting myriad updates.
But technology was identified as the most pressing need, accounting for about $1.5 million of the $12.5 million. It was the first thing district officials addressed, and about $1 million has been spent already.
Students like Campeau quickly have seen change.
“In my freshman year, we didn’t have any of the Chromebooks,” Campeau said. A Chromebook is a kind of laptop computer. To date, the district has purchased 1,600 Chromebooks.
“We had some other laptops and they were starting to get pretty old and slow,” Campeau said. “Then last year, we got the Chromebooks…it just makes everything a lot faster.”
Chromebooks are just one part of the equation.
The list of items purchased also includes:
• 500 desktop computers
• 310 iPads (tablet computers)
• 105 interactive data projectors
• 105 classroom audio systems
• 105 security cameras
• 86 wireless access points (small boxes that allow the Chromebooks and tablets to access the Internet without wires)
Mike Wiederhold, technology director, Caro Community Schools — who started as an audio-visual technician for the district more than three decades ago — said the district’s technology was severely out of date before the recent upgrades.
Computers were seven years old — antiques by tech standards — and using an operating system (Microsoft’s Windows XP that was released in 2001) that essentially opened the devices up to all kinds of potential problems, such as computer viruses.
The district had other tech issues, too.
There weren’t as many security cameras, and they didn’t have the kind of capabilities the new versions offer.
Some data projectors were so dim, they couldn’t be used without shutting off all the lights in a classroom — and some were still too dim.
The phone system had been in place five years too long. Wiederhold had to find replacement parts on eBay to keep it running.
Then, there was the WiFi network that was less network, more patchwork of wireless Internet access points with very limited bandwidth. That’s a troubling prospect when trying to use resources such as high-quality streaming video to teach.
Wiederhold started the upgrade by taking an inventory of what the district had, coupled with input from the staff “on stuff they’d like to see,” and his work to keep up with the tech needs of today’s students in general.
“We also visited several other districts to see their technology and how it was being used in the classroom,” Wiederhold said.
Mike Joslyn, superintendent, Caro Community Schools, said the intent wasn’t just to get new tech for the sake of getting new tech.
“What we look at in education is engagement of students,” Joslyn said.
Trying to mix it between the old adage of paper and pencil to technology where you have everything at your fingertips is something that we wanted to focus on.”
Kathy Gierman, a social studies teacher at Caro High School, demonstrated how the interactive data projectors work for The Advertiser.
The system projects a computer screen onto a board in the front of a classroom, but uses a complex laser system to turn that projected image into a giant touchscreen computer.
Gierman said she also is able to connect an iPad to the projector, which allows her to move throughout the classroom and not be tied to the board in front.
And she says it’s a lot more than simply having the new tech — it’s also about improved engagement with students, and preparing them.
“We’ve got to get these great kids ready for the workforce,” Gierman said.
She pointed out that many students like Campeau will soon be off to college and that they “have to be ready to interact in this electronic society.”
“And not only have good conversations with his peer groups, but be able to submit things online and have that type of communication,” Gierman said.
Wiederhold said it’s important to note that the tech upgrades weren’t limited to in-classroom uses.
The phone system was upgraded.
The old security camera system is tremendously more robust, meaning there are more of them and they have the latest and greatest in available features, such as being digital and incorporating infra-red technology that allows them to “see” in the dark. For security purposes, Wiederhold didn’t want to reveal more details about the system.
“We also upgraded the security control access system…so now all of our buildings are secure with locks so that we have times set on them for when they will allow students to enter, and after that, they’re closed,” Wiederhold said. “If people want to enter, they have to enter through the offices.”
Overall, Joslyn said the improvements have been felt district wide.
He said time will tell how much the new technology improves the education experience for Caro students, but the district is in a much better position to move forward than it was just a few short years ago.
“We were kind of archaic at Caro schools at one point, so this has given us a big shot in the arm to upgrade our technology,” he said.
Wiederhold said he hopes the district will be able to keep up with technology and avoid having to take on an all-encompassing upgrade like the most recent one.
He said he’s “very happy with the way things have turned out.”
“And most of all, I’m very thankful for the community to support it by supporting the bond and giving us the funding to make it happen,” Wiederhold said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com