Pekin Community High School students are getting a technology boost this year with Chromebooks that will help them learn new skills while opening up new education pathways for teachers.

On their first day of school, Friday, Aug. 17, each PCHS student will receive a Chromebook during their first hour. This is the first time the high school has done this. Superintendent of PCHS District 303 Danielle Owens said up until this year, Chromebooks were available on a cart, and teachers had to sign up to use them for a class.

“Our hope is that we are able to provide the Chromebooks for students for all four years and then they’ll be able to leave with it when they graduate,” she said. “The Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive in the tech world, and over the last five years or so, we’ve been buying them a little at a time with part of the $75 (per student) instructional fee.”

Before the first day of school, a team of nine students who went through technology classes charged up approximately 1,900 Chromebooks to be ready for distribution. Owens said the student team will be able to help with repairs should they happen. PCHS also has an employee computer technician. The tech team visited Illinois Valley Central High School in Chillicothe in spring 2018 because IVC has a similar program. The team was able to see how the program worked and learn from it.

At the start of each class period on their first day, they will get tutorials and be taught the rules and expectations of having a Chromebook, how to set up files and how to organize files.

Owens said she is looking forward to the Chromebooks enhancing teachers’ lessons and teaching styles.

“Our hope is they’re used when teachers deem them effective tools for collaboration, to acquire information, research, presentations and note taking,” she said. “Students will then have the basic skills for a tech world.”

There were a handful of teachers who piloted the use of Chromebooks over the last two years. They received training on how to use the Chromebooks from Cynthia Hinderliter, the Instructional Technology Department chairwoman.

“I’m definitely looking forward to seeing teachers be able to teach new things in new ways that they previously weren’t able to do,” Hinderliter said. “They can have students go on virtual field trips, explore things for science. In foreign language classes, they can use an international keyboard or connect with different classrooms all over the world.”

Owens said the teachers are ready for it.

“Our staff is young, and they’re used to using technology,” she said. “It seemed like a natural fit.”

The Chromebooks will be useful not only in different subjects but teachers will get to use them for teaching “soft skills” as well. Hinderliter said teachers can put in assignment deadlines so that students can just bring up a calendar with the deadlines. Adhering to deadlines is a skill students will need not only in high school but in the work force. By learning how to organize files they can also stay organized.

Hinderliter said they will be taught email skills, too.

“I get emails that start out with ‘yo,’” she said. “Kids are emailing like they text, and that is not professional. So we will teach them how to address someone in an email in a professional way.”

All the Chromebooks will be monitored. They will also be equipped with a security program to filter inappropriate content. The safeguards are in place even when students are connected to their home Wi-Fi.

″(The security filter) provides parents a level of relief,” Owens said. “Teachers can control content on the Chromebooks, too. They can filter the whole class to a certain website if they’d like to.”

Looking ahead to the 2019 school year, Owens said the incoming freshmen will get new Chromebooks, and she is hopeful PCHS will be able to continue providing Chromebooks to the freshmen class each year.