SUSD Students Embrace Digital Technology

Ninth grade students use their laptops in English class to read William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet at Sunnyside High School. The laptops are part of the One-to-One program that gives students in grades 4 to 12 access to computers. (Photograph by Giles Smith)
Ninth grade students use their laptops in English class to read William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at Sunnyside High School, part of the One-to-One Computing program. (Photograph by Giles Smith)

Set to become the first member of his family to attend college, 17-year-old Joseph Vasquez attributes his ability to move forward in his education to Sunnyside Unified School District’s One-to-One Computing program.

“My parents were in shock that I could do so well in school,” Vasquez, a senior at Sunnyside High School, said. “My mother is so proud that I will be the first in our family to graduate high school and go on to college.”

Beginning in 2012, the One-to-One program gives every SUSD student in grades 4 through 12 access to a laptop for use in classrooms and at home for their assignments.

Sunnyside Unified School District had struggled with low student academic performance until recently, according to SUSD administrators: with the creation of the One-to-One program by Superintendent Manuel Isquerdo, the district has seen an increase in attendance and graduation rates.

In 2010, the graduation rate among SUSD students was 54.7 percent. In 2013, the rate increased to 73.9 percent, according to Arizona Department of Education officials.

Students are simply having more fun in the classroom, Vasquez said. “Class isn’t a chore now. We use our computers to do science projects and even watch YouTube videos that help us in our art projects.”

Teachers also are big fans of the laptops. Kristin Daniels, a ninth grade English teacher at Sunnyside High School, has become an advocate of the program and believes other school districts should follow SUSD’s example.

“The One-to-One has positively changed how I teach my kids,” Daniels said. “ I feel that because of the laptops in my class I can now teach to many different types of learners.”

Daniels said that before the program she could only reach students who were visual learners, but now she is able to have fully interactive classes that engage auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners (who learn best from a physical activity), all at the same time.

Administrators had hoped that a well-crafted plan that added technology would increase students’ desire to attend classes, which would then lead to increases in graduation rates.

“We had an overhaul of adding technology to the classrooms,” Isquerdo said. “ I knew I had to give our kids a bigger reason to learn.”

The number of computers in the classroom increased from 844 in 2007 to 15,000 in 2012.

The One-to-One program stemmed from SUSD’s 2009 Digital Advantage Program that offered a new laptop for students if they met high standards of academic success. The standards were known as the four A’s: Academics, Attendance, Attitude and Achievement.

But that $1.2 million cost was paid for by donations from businesses and foundations and ended in the spring of 2012. After seeing some improvement in graduation rates with the program in place, Isquerdo decided that all SUSD students would benefit from constant computer access in their classrooms. The One-to-One program was created in the fall of 2012.

An $88 million dollar government bond is currently funding the program. Under the current budget, that can be sustained until 2022.

Students are allowed to use the laptops and take them home as they need, but when the school year ends, students must return them.

The program has provided first-time home computer access to many families.

According to a 2013 study, 76.7 percent of SUSD students receive free or reduced-cost lunches, an indication of financial need.

The One-to-One program gives students and parents new opportunities, said Mary Veres, director of public information for SUSD. “Many of the homes and families that these students come from do not have computers of their own,” Veres said.

With an increase in technology, SUSD students believe they are better able to complete their assignments and have a greater opportunity to succeed in college.

“Before having a laptop for my classes I did not even know how to use Microsoft Word or PowerPoint,” Vasquez said.

Daniels, who has been teaching the ninth grade for six years, now uses the computers daily to teach her lessons. She said she has seen how laptops have changed the culture in her classroom dating back to 2009 when the Digital Advantage Program was launched. Since the One-to-One program was added, she believes her lessons put more responsibility on her students to complete their assignment at a higher level than before.

The attendance rates in SUSD’s high schools have increased from 89 percent in 2010 to 92 percent in 2013 since the implantation of the One-to-One Program.

Alyssa Welch, Sunnyside High School’s freshmen class principal, has been an advocate of the district’s technology-based programs.

“I have seen an increase in students’ level of achievement because of the use of technology,” Welch said. “Our kids can still improve more in the classroom, but adding technology into the classrooms has increased the focus of our students.”

Staff and administrators are pleased with the program, “We’ve got a good thing going here,”  Isquerdo said. “Technology is the change we needed in our school to help both teachers and students in our classroom.”

Vasquez is beginning at Pima Community College this summer, and although his favorite subjects include history and biology, he is still undecided on his major.

Regardless, he said college is a dream come true: “I’m sure it’s going to be so fun.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *