This is a great time to be a fourth grader in Decatur, Alabama. In September, 2011, when these students return to school as fifth graders there will be Dell netbooks waiting for them.
Martha Orr, who teaches grade 5 at Leon Sheffield Elementary School, is almost as excited as the students; maybe more. Currently, if she wants to use a computer in her class she has to reserve the mobile cart of computers and have that brought in if it is available. Beginning with the 2011-2012 school year, each of her students will have a computer to use 24/7. Fellow teacher, Marisa Pedings share’s Orr’s enthusiasm. “[The students] love being on the computers. It's a treat for them to get to come to the computer lab and it makes learning a lot more fun this way," she says.
The school leaders in Decatur picked fifth grade because attendance rates and test scores indicated that this was the grade level at which many students started to lose interest in school. Currently, standardized reading test scores drop significantly and discipline referrals and absentee rates increase when students move from fourth to fifth grade. School officials are hopeful that through this initiative, scores for reading and vocabulary will improve by at least five percentage points; average daily attendance will improve by two percentage points; and discipline referrals will decrease by three percentage points.Initial funding for the netbook project came from a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency that helps the 13 Appalachian states compete in the global economy. In addition to ARC funds, local sources will provide $200,000, bringing the total project funding to $391,480.