HISD parent Cecil Perry is thrilled that her daughter, Tamara, will soon have her own laptop to use while attending classes at Madison High School and at home. “She is going to need computer skills in order to be successful after high school when she goes on to college and eventually gets a job,” said Perry. “Hopefully she will teach me a thing or two along the way.”
Perry is one of several thousand parents who have turned out for PowerUp meetings over recent weeks to learn more about the districtwide one-to-one initiative that will eventually provide a laptop for every high school student at HISD. As part of phase one of PowerUp, nearly 18,000 students will receive laptops this coming January; but before they do, HISD wants to ensure that both they and their parents understand the responsible use of technology, good digital citizenship, and Internet safety.
“We want parents to understand that PowerUp is about more than just us giving their student a laptop,” said Madison Principal Sonja Williams. “This is about ensuring that their child is able to develop the essential skills that he or she will need in order to compete in today’s workforce — skills like critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and the ability to access and analyze information.”
Parent informational sessions at the 11 pilot PowerUp schools have been well attended. Make-up sessions and more parent meetings are scheduled throughout the months of November and December.
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“I have been overwhelmed by the turnout and by the overall excitement of our parents,” said Instructional Technology Manager Beatriz Arnillas. “At every single school, the principals and staff have told us that they have seen more parents at these meetings than they typically see at their open houses.”
At each meeting, parents learn more about the laptop their child will be assigned as well as an overview of the software and tools loaded to each device. In addition, all laptops will be equipped with Internet filtering that blocks social media sites and other websites based on content key words. This filtering is in place at all times, regardless of where the computer is in use.
“That was an issue and concern of mine,” said Madison parent Lisa Chilo. “But after hearing about the steps that HISD has taken, I feel much better.”
Even though the laptops will block social media websites, the district is going a step further and requiring students to take a 70-minute digital citizenship class so they can fully understand the importance of having a good “digital footprint.” A digital footprint is the data trail left by interactions in a digital environment, which includes the use of videos, mobile phone, Internet, and other connected devices.
Parents are also getting a brief lesson on their own digital footprint and the importance of good digital citizenship at the PowerUp informational sessions. In addition, before any laptops are distributed, all parents and students must sign an agreement stating that they understand appropriate Internet behavior and the responsible use of technology.