Windham High School Leads the Way in Classroom Technology

By Jonathan G. Steiner

Wow. That’s the first word that comes to mind after my visit to the new Windham High School. Last month’s column on changing technology prompted an alert reader to suggest I pay a visit to this 21st century school to see how technology is already being implemented in a big way.

First, every kid gets a Mac Powerbook laptop. That’s not a typo. Every kid. New laptop. Instead of kids walking through the halls with textbooks and backpacks, they carry little white boxes. The library still has shelves of books, but comfy chairs with laptop desks and recharging stations line the walls as well. Each classroom is equipped with a smartboard. Think of it as a giant monitor like a weatherman uses, that allows the teacher to work from his computer and also access any student’s laptop with the touch of a key. The graphic arts program, music room and shop have been transformed into high tech studios complete with digital electronics and robotics ready to teach kids real world skills with powerful equipment that they will find in the workplace.

Superintendent Frank Bass explains “providing the laptops is really cost neutral when you compare it with the cost of setting up a computer lab and building the infrastructure.” But the benefits go far beyond any cost.

In classroom after classroom I watched as technology was integrated into the lesson. Guitar students learned a piece of music, and then watched as Sting and other performers played the piece in each artist’s own style. In another room, kids had access to equipment that would theoretically allow them to make a music video or cut their own demo.

In a geometry class, Armando Segura explained how the laptops help him teach. “It’s more interactive, not just regurgitating what I tell them. They discover as they work through it.” And, with the smartboard, Segura can see exactly what a student is working on by simply touching that student’s icon and bringing that laptop screen onto the main screen in front of the class. Miss a key point in the class? No worries, the lesson is recorded as a podcast and instantly accessible 24/7 to the student. “The technology shortens the distance” says Segura, “while at the same time expanding the classroom.” He explains that students can access him while they do their homework, after school or on the weekend, and he can help them work through whatever issue they are having. So in this case, geometry is not just limited to a 45 minute block, it’s real time.

The kids seem to like the technology as well, although there are drawbacks for procrastinators. Finishing homework on the bus or before school is no longer an option when electronic submission is required by 10:00 p.m. When asked if they are tempted to surf other sites during class, the answer is that both the teacher and tech department can see where you are at any point, so getting caught is too easy.

Concerns about theft and damage prompted the school to take out an insurance policy through AppleCare. So far, there has been just one claim. “The kids are taking really good care of them,” says Bass. “They have ownership.” The laptops are for the student to use for their four years. At the end of each school year, the laptops are turned in for maintenance and upgrades and then returned to the student in the fall. At the end of four years the student can buy his or her laptop for $25.

Teachers also had to buy in to the new technology. “We had a two-week summer institute as well as 90 minutes of professional development each week” says Bass. “The professional development is a huge part of the success.”

Across the country, there approximately 2000 schools set up this way. In Windham’s case, the school is built for roughly 1000 students but currently holds 327. Only the freshman and sophomore classes are in residence as the upper classes finish at Salem High. Complementing the modern use of technology is the modern design of the school. Angles, glass and light give the lobby the feeling of an atrium. The site is also the highest point in Windham and mountains are visible in the distance from the second floor windows. So here we have a building that is situated on the pinnacle of Windham, and what’s going on inside may just well be the pinnacle in education as well.

Jon Steiner is a former member of the Kearsarge (SAU 65) School Board, representing the Town of Bradford. He can be reached by phone at 800.852.3358 or by e-mail at