Tablets, such as this Texas student’s iPad, are showing up in more classrooms.
Tablets, such as this Texas student's iPad, are showing up in more classrooms. ( AP File Photo/Nathan Lambrecht)

South Western Superintendent Barbara Rupp remembers when, three years ago, a middle school student remarked that all the power she had was held captive in her locker.

She couldn't use her cell phone, and the school provided the only access to electronic learning tools.

Rupp and her colleagues realized they needed to make a change: Gone were the days of electronic-free classrooms. Instead, it was time to embrace the technology that students use at home.

Last year was the first that South Western and several other York County school districts began a Bring Your Own Device pilot program, or BYOD.

This meant that students could bring their own smartphones, tablets, laptops and other electronics to use in the classroom. Those programs will continue and expand this year.

Rupp said the district prepared for months to get the wireless network ready, and to prepare the faculty with online

resources and training for troubleshooting everything that could go wrong. But possible complications in theory were non-issues in practice.

"It went off without a hitch," Rupp said.

See also: Electronic device policies in York County schools

On board: At Southern York, the school board extended the BYOD pilot program for the 2013-14 school year.

Last year, three elementary school teachers, two middle school teachers and one high school teacher started the pilot program. Now, teachers who go through professional training for the electronic devices can use them in their classrooms.

Len Reppert, the Southern York Middle School principal and one of the facilitators for the training, said expanding the program will benefit students who learn on a variety of platforms.

"We have to be able to make sure that we're utilizing the resources that are going to help keep them engaged," Reppert said.

South Eastern also started a pilot program last year, but it was initially for students in seventh and eighth grades. Superintendent Rona Kaufmann said the program went smoothly and three high school teachers started the BYOD pilot in the spring. The district also bought classroom sets of Chromebooks for use in the middle schools.

"Our students are living in a time when they can learn anytime, anywhere," Kaufmann said. "We want them to be able to access that information."

The use: Kaufmann said many of the teachers trained students to sift through material on the Internet to make sure the information they were using was credible.

"Web quest" research projects are common among teachers, especially as they become more accustomed to using technology in the classroom.

"Our staff is becoming more savvy as we need to, to keep up with our students," Kaufmann said.

These web quests vary by teacher and subject matter, but the goal is to teach students to process the information they find online.

Kaufmann said using the devices allows students to learn how to find information and analyze it for learning on an electronic platform.

Anyone can do a Google search, but knowing how to absorb that information and make connections between a textbook and a website is part of what the BYOD programs can help with.

Not a distraction: Kaufmann said there are not restrictions on the type of devices students can bring, but there are content filters on their guest network that encourage students to stay on sites that are educational resources.

Wayne McCullough, the chief financial and operations officer at Southern, said the devices are only to be used for educational purposes: Students cannot use their cell phones during the day for making calls or texting.

Kaufmann estimates that more than half of the middle school students brought a device to school. McCullough said that about 75 percent of the high school students at Southern used electronic devices in the classroom.

Rupp, at South Western, said that students are allowed to use cell phones during lunch and between classes. She said in the first month of the new policy, many students hunched over their phones in the cafeteria. But that habit has decreased.

"When you could do it, it was no big deal anymore," Rupp said. "It became how we do business."

-- Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.