BEVERLY — Nearly three-quarters of Beverly High School students have signed up for the new program that allows them to lease a laptop computer starting in August.
A total of 910 out of 1,250 students have agreed to lease an Apple MacBook for $336 per year, or $28 per month, according to School Technology Director Judy Miller. The 300 or so students who have not agreed to pay will be provided loaner laptops in school but will not be able to take them home.
Miller said the number of participating students is higher than she expected.
"I was hoping for 720 or something like that," she said. "A lot of kids are excited about it."
Beverly is one of the few public school districts in Massachusetts to implement a "one-to-one" laptop program. Two regional high schools in western Massachusetts, Gateway and Hampshire, lease laptops. Burlington High School plans to provide its students with iPads this fall.
Beverly's laptop program coincides with the recent $81 million expansion and renovation of the high school, which included the implementation of wireless technology throughout the building, facilitating the widespread use of laptops.
"We get calls every week from other school districts wanting to know what we're doing," Miller said. "We're kind of the first around here to do this. A lot of people are keeping their eye on Beverly."
The city is set to sign a four-year financing agreement with Apple that will require the city to pay $810,496 to lease 970 laptops, Finance Director John Dunn said. The city will make eight payments of $101,312 over four years. Those numbers include a 3.47 percent interest rate on the installment payments.
The school district also purchased 300 laptops for $246,440 that will be used as the "loaner" computers for students who don't lease a laptop.
The $336 annual leasing charge for families includes the laptop, a four-year warranty, insurance, maintenance, software updates and lease processing costs, Miller said. Families must pay half the cost, $168, upfront, then have the option of paying the rest in $28 monthly payments from November to April.
The four-year cost for families comes to $1,344. That is slightly more than the cost of a MacBook at retail stores, according to figures on the Beverly High website. But Miller said students will also receive insurance for theft and accidental damage, Apple updates and applications, warranty repairs done at the high school by certified technicians, and a loaner laptop while repairs are being done.
Students who lease a computer for four years will have the option of buying it for $1 when they graduate. The buyout cost will be higher for students who lease for fewer years.
Financial assistance is available for eligible families. The Beverly Education Foundation has started a fundraising drive to help families pay for laptop leases.
Miller said people have reacted favorably to the program after some initial resistance over the cost for families, many of whom are already paying user fees for sports, music, transportation and other school programs and services.
"It was met with a lot of skepticism at first, but over the last year I've seen nothing but more positive support for this from parents and from students," she said.
One criticism is that students who don't lease a computer will be at a disadvantage because they won't be allowed to take their loaner laptop home. Miller said the school is offering a variety of options.
If students have their own removable flash drive, they can save information from their school laptop on the device and take it home. Students can also access course materials through online sites that many teachers have already established. Loaner computers will also be available at the main library and the Beverly Farms library.
An estimated 30 to 35 students are planning to use MacBooks that they already own, Miller said.
Miller said she expects the number of students requiring loaners will diminish as more and more students agree to lease computers as the program progresses over the years.
How the laptops are used in the classroom will be at the discretion of teachers, Miller said.
"The whole idea is that the technology is there when the teacher needs it, when it best supports instruction," she said. "It can be spontaneous. Anytime, anywhere it makes sense. There's so much they can do. There are so many resources online now it's unbelievable for teachers."
Teachers have been receiving training on the MacBooks since June 2008, Miller said. Ninety-four teachers and administrators have been trained so far. Guidance counselors and paraprofessionals are scheduled to receive training in the fall. Miller said training will be ongoing in order to keep up with changes in technology.
Seniors and juniors will pick up their computers on Aug. 15 at the high school cafeteria, followed by sophomores on Aug. 16 and freshmen on Aug. 17.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.