South Tahoe Middle School teacher Carol Murdock took her social studies class from St. Louis to the Washington coast Tuesday, but unlike Lewis and Clark's journey, the eighth-graders followed the western route with a SMART board and netbooks. “We're pretty much paperless. I think it's a really exciting program and I think it's the way of the future,” Murdock said. Murdock replaced her social studies text book with the small laptops this school year. She communicates with her students, grades papers, and gives tests online, a move that district educators think will become the norm in five years. Lake Tahoe Unified School District launched the netbook program in 2010 with 650 units from AT&T. By the 2012-13 school year, that number had more than doubled, Superintendent James Tarwater said. Every student between third and 12th grade now has his or her own personal laptop. The program targeted grade-level proficiency in three student body subgroups —Hispanic, English-language learners and socio-economically disadvantaged. “Our goal was equity. You're going from a traditional classroom to a digital one,” Tarwater said. LTUSD is one of many school districts nationwide transitioning from the pad and pencil to electronic monitors, a switch prompted in part because of common core or No Child Left Behind requirements. The online Smarter Balanced assessment system will replace California's Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or STAR, by 2014-15, according to a report from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. According to Tarwater, the netbooks are cost-effective — the school can buy the small laptops at a third of the price of a text book — and engaging. Some of the students are already more versed in that technological world than their teachers. “I think it's addressing the students in the age we all live in. These kids are digital natives. And they get instant feedback,” LTUSD Technology Trainer Kelly Martin said. That tech savvy can get students in trouble —they're already learning to hack, system administrator Joe Pfeil said —and educators monitor and try to control which sites the youth visit. Programs like the new Writing Coach software help walk students through their lessons in real time. Writing Coach teaches students how to structure an essay and even gives a basic grade for the child's work. Sixth-graders in Louise Ann Simon's English language arts class tuned into their netbooks Tuesday for a reading comprehension lesson that lets students compete against other classrooms state- and nationwide. Simon proudly pointed to a group of her students who ranked in the top tier both in the California and the country. The class still reads paperback novels, but Simon anticipates that might change in the next few years. In Irene Kaelin's fifth-grade classroom at Tahoe Valley Elementary School, the students use the small laptops to learn and reinforce basic math skills. Games like Alien Sundae and Ninja to the Stars keeps the children engaged and digital prizes incentivize them to keep learning, Kaelin said. And she said that the Reflex: Math program has made a difference score-wise. After Kaelin piloted the program last year, her students' math grades skyrocketed. Part of the goal is to give all students access to a computer and the internet, even if they don't have a network connection at home. Ubiquitous wireless connectivity is one of AT&T's main goals, lead manager of the company's education marketing Benjamin Kruse said. By putting a netbook in almost every student's hands, LTUSD is setting an important example for other districts, he said. In other news:Jeremy Meyers appointed county superintendentThe El Dorado County Board of Education appointed Jeremy Meyers to the county superintendent position, effective July 1, 2013.Meyers will fill the position vacated by Vicki Barber, who will retire as superintendent June 30. LTCC hosts financial aid application night for seniorsHigh school seniors and their parents are invited to attend a financial aid application event tonight from 6-8 p.m. at Lake Tahoe Community College. FAFSA and LTCC financial aid staff will be on hand to help students one-on-one through the process. Students and parents must create an account at www.fafsa.gov, and they should bring the account's pin number and latest tax information. Schools break for Presidents Day Whittell High School and Zephyr Cove Elementary School will not hold classes Monday in honor of Presidents Day. Lake Tahoe Unified School District schools will have a weeklong break from Feb. 18 through Feb. 22. LTCC community education offers contractor courseThe Lake Tahoe Community College CONNECT Community Education program partnered with the city of South Lake Tahoe to offer an EPA-approved course on lead renovation, repair and painting. The course will take place Feb. 23 and March 23 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The training gives contractors information about lead-based paints, regulations, dust containment and safe work practices. For more information, call 530-416-0057, ext. 717. TAP to host public performance next monthThe Tahoe Arts Project is bringing the Utah Ballroom Dance Company to South Shore schools during the week of Feb. 25 through March 1. The public performance will take place Friday, March 1 at the MontBleu Theater at 7 p.m. The night will include six South Lake Tahoe residents in the performance “Dancing with Your Stars.” Tickets cost $10 per adult and $5 per child.
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