Schools use Microsoft money to buy Macs 

The funds may come from Microsoft, but the Sequoia High School District plans to use the money to purchase Apple laptops for portable computer labs in its high schools.

The district is beginning to plan what to do with more than $400,000 received this spring following the federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in 1998 and the subsequent settlement in 2001.

Under that settlement, schools could request a portion of the district’s Microsoft money. Half of those funds can be used to purchase hardware while the other half can be used for software, according to Robert Fishtrom, technology resource teacher for the Sequoia High School District.

Roughly $104,000 of that money will likely be used to establish four "mobile computer labs," one for each high school, that include 21 MacBook laptops in carts that can roam from classroom to classroom.

Such labs are one way to get students — many of whom are more savvy with video games and cell phones than with making multimedia presentations — comfortable with the newest technology, Fishtrom said.

"We chose the Mac platform because of the tools available, especially the iLife suite, so we can do some projects and get the students engaged more, so they’re not just being lectured to for an hour at a time," Fishtrom said.

The high schools’ existing computer labs feature computers anywhere from three to seven years old that slow to a crawl as students try to use up-to-date software.

Jenna Cestone, a teacher at Woodside High School, adopted several old computers and put her students to work on them.

"Most of them come in being computer virgins, but they get into it," Cestone said. "When they do video or graphics, or develop a story and add pictures, it opens their academic world up."

Other Bay Area high school districts have made ample use of these computer-labs-on-wheels, but such amenities are not without their downsides, said Dennis Barbata, information technology services director for San Jose’s East Side Union High School District.

When 30 students share one network hub, traffic passing over that network can bog down. Plus, when that many kids need to recharge their laptops’ batteries simultaneously, they wind up competing for wall outlets in classrooms, Barbata said.

The Sequoia High School District was scheduled to vote on the new computers Wednesday night. If approved, they should roll out at Sequoia’s high schools within a few weeks, Fishtrom said.

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