Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a magnet school in Philadelphia well known for high quality project-based learning, is dumping its Macbooks for Dell's newly released Chromebooks. But breaking up isn’t always easy. “It’s like really enjoying to go eat at a really nice restaurant, and you don’t have money to eat there any more…There is no question that a Chromebook is not a Mac, but our Macs became financially untenable,” says former SLA teacher and grant writer Diana Laufenberg.
For the past seven years, SLA has purchased about 125 new Mac laptops for each incoming freshman class. But supporting this one-to-one environment for 500 students year-round isn’t cheap. Each year, the school spends over $180,000 to buy and maintain the laptops; a majority of this money comes from grants and donation.
However, when the school budget in Philadelphia began to shrink this fall, SLA’s fundraising efforts were directed to support basic line items, like teacher salaries. “The budget situation has gone off the rails. The budget was completely eroding in front of us and we started to look at what would be a better solution that was sustainable over time that met our needs,” says Laufenberg. That’s when the school began talks with Dell.
Thanks to a generous $620,000 grant from Dell, the school will switch to Dell’s new Chromebook this month. The partnership gives the school a more cost-effective device and offers the company a high-profile customer as it enters the Chromebook school market.
“When we had a chance to sit down and meet with Chris [Lehman] and Diane [Laufenberg] it became clear that there are some really great learning principles at play at Science Learning Academy,” says Jon Phillips, Director of Global Education at Dell.
The grant will give SLA 900 Chromebooks over the next three years, and fund one tech support position, professional development, and a “program coordinator” whose main role will be to essentially market and spotlight the use of Dell Chromebooks to the world. According to Phillips, Dell hopes to “bring people to a place to see inquiry-based learning that’s tech enriched.”
What remains to be seen is whether the overnight device and OS change will be disruptive to the teachers and students.