Keith Mastorides, principal of Clearwater High, shows off a Kindle, which all students at the school will use next school year to replace textbooks.
CLEARWATER – Students at Clearwater High School will have lighter backpacks this coming school year, as the school becomes the first known in the country to replace textbooks with Kindle electronic readers.
Each student will be issued one of the electronic devices, and the school will load as many textbooks as it can afford onto them.
This move is to accomplish numerous goals, said Principal Keith Mastorides. For one thing, school surveys given to students, parents and faculty members always come back saying that people desire more ways to integrate technology into the school, he said.
At first, school leaders thought about issuing a laptop to each student but quickly ruled that out as too expensive. Leaders then developed a list of things they wanted students to get out of a device.
“We wanted them to be able to have Internet access because many of our students have none at home, and we also wanted them to have Internet for research,” Mastorides said. “We wanted them to be able to read their textbooks digitally and have a few more resources as a result; be able to increase the size of the font; be able to look up words; and if they’re stuck on a word, listen to how to pronounce it. After looking at all of the resources, we realized that e-readers are the most cost-effective way to do that.”
Through Pinellas County Schools’ new decentralized decision making program, Mastorides had more flexibility with how he used his budget, to find unique ways to use it. He said the school looked at their accounts, technology dollars and textbook dollars and discovered Kindles were a cost-effective way to meet their goals within their existing budget.
“We’re using the dollars we actually have – we’re not using any additional funds,” Mastorides said. “We’re hoping we will be able to start this project and then other schools can use it and copy it, which is pretty exciting that we’re piloting a project that any school can pick up and run with.”
With traditional textbooks, if students lose or damage them, their families must pay about $90 to replace them, Mastorides said. Kindles cost about $180, so replacing one is equivalent to two traditional textbooks. However, with the Kindles, parents may buy an insurance policy for about $20-$30, which covers loss and damage.
John Just, assistant superintendent for management of information systems, said the Kindles could save the district money in the long-term, too, as it is a fraction of what students would pay in four years for traditional textbooks. The pilot program will help collect more data about that as well as what breakage rates are and other information.
Mastorides said it was important to school leaders that this was an all-school program rather than a small pilot group of students. With high school schedules, he said it would be difficult to issue them to a select group of students and not create a “have and have-not” situation since schedules vary so much. This puts Clearwater High in the lead of such a program.
“There are some (schools in the country) that are doing it as a class initiative, meaning 30 to 50 kids, or in their media center where kids can check them out, but nobody is doing this for an entire school,” Mastorides said. “We’ll be the first. First public school in the district, in the state, in the country, in the world.”
The Kindles come with free Whispernet, which is limited Internet that does works anywhere and does not need a WiFi connection. The Kindles do not do video or color – it uses 17 shades of gray – and it is not backlit, so reading is easier on the eyes. One can increase the font size, it can read aloud to users, and people can make notes in the text. All of these features made this particular e-reader appealing to school leaders. Also, all books published before 1923 are free, so teachers will have access to free classic literature for students.
Kathy Bidde, 10th grade history honors teacher and 11th and 12th grade sociology teacher at Clearwater High, said she is excited for her students to use the Kindles and that it will make life easier for her, as they can all do research in the classroom without having to go to a computer lab.
“Also, in my sociology class, we do current issues and things like that, so it’ll be nice to just go to a newspaper site all together and look at the articles and be able to read them and talk about an issue that everybody can see at the same time, and it’s not like one person has the article but no one else does,” Bidde said.
Technology and electronics are such a part of young people’s lives, Bidde said, that she thinks it is normal for them to take care of such devices. There has been some question about whether students would treat the e-readers with respect or if there would be a high rate of breakage or loss, but Bidde said she is not worried about that.
Bidde also added that the devices will help with reading comprehension, as students can both read and listen to text audibly, which will help for students with different learning styles and for students for whom English is not their first language. She is excited for all the possibilities the Kindles will open up.
“I think it’s going to be a big change,” Bidde said. “I’ve been teaching for 31 years, so to do away with a textbook is going to be quite unique, but it’s exciting. We’re ready to try something new. I think it’s going to be the way of the future with books and things for school. I think it’s kind of bold. A bold step. A big step. I think it’s a very positive step.”