Parents raise funds for computer lab

SARANAC LAKE – Local parents have raised funds for a big technology upgrade at Saranac Lake High School.

The Saranac Lake High School Parent Faculty Organization held a series of fundraisers beginning last summer and recently used the proceeds to purchase 25 Google Chromebooks. The computers have been donated to the school.

“It’s going to provide another opportunity for teachers and students to utilize technology in their classrooms when the numbers of computer stations and laptops that we have are currently limited,” said high school Principal Bruce Van Weelden. He called the Chromebooks “a more cutting-edge technology than we’ve used in the past.”

When it formed last year, the PFO wanted to make a big first impression. One of the group’s initial ideas, according to member Susan Waters, was to raise money to build a new library at the high school.

“We decided quickly that was a little more than we could bite off,” she said, “but we still wanted to do something substantial, kind of like the Petrova Parents Club playground project. So we got input from the teachers and staff that mobile computer carts would be really useful for the classrooms. That’s what we started raising money for.”

A goal of $30,000 was set. The campaign began with a Flip-Flop Gala at Mount Pisgah Ski Center in August. Since then, the PFO has held trivia nights and fundraising dinners, launched a letter-writing campaign and started a fund with the Adirondack Community Trust. More than $15,000 has been raised so far, including a $750 grant from the Women’s Civic Chamber.

“We were originally looking at laptops, refurbished laptops, new laptops, tablets and iPads,” Waters said. “Those figures were coming in at $30,000, not including software and licensing. A couple meetings ago, Gail Meyer, a biology teacher, suggested we look at Google Chromebooks, which are a cloud-based solution.”

Chromebooks are also a less expensive option, at roughly $300 each. Unlike traditional laptops, each of which has its own programs and applications on its hard drive, Chromebooks are designed to be used while connected to the Internet and support applications that are on the Web.

“Meanwhile, something else had changed, and that was the beefing up of the school’s Internet capacity,” Waters said. “They’ve expanded their Time Warner service, switched to Gmail (Google’s mail program), and they’ve added more wireless hubs and modems at various locations in the school, so that this cloud technology becomes more possible.”

Parents, teachers and school officials also talked with representatives of the Colton-Pierrepont Central School District, which last year gave each of its students a Google Chromebook to use for taking notes and completing assignments.

“So we decided to try a pilot of one cart and 25 of these Chromebooks, which are going to be distributed to teachers and staff to try out this summer,” Waters said.

“The more we explored it, it seemed to make a lot of sense because we’re using the Google platform which interfaces nicely with the Chromebooks, and we’ll be able to utilize it in the classroom as an educational tool,” Van Weelden said.

Caroleigh Meserole, the district’s network administrator, said she’ll be working over the summer to set up the mobile computer lab.

“It’s another classroom on wheels,” she said. “Students will be able to do research. They’ll be able to create documents and presentations through Google Drive. A lot of the tests are online. They’ll be able to do everything they do in a classroom online.”

Van Weelden praised the PFO for its dedication to the project.

“It was a small but determined band of individuals that repeatedly showed up, put in monumental efforts, came up with various ideas and encouraged community support,” he said. I was very surprised that we were able to come through to completion at such an early date. I can’t say enough about them. They just went to work for us and got it done.”

Waters said the group will continue to support the high school with other projects. It’s actively looking for new members, she added.

“We haven’t really settled on what we’re going to do going forward,” she said. “We think this is a pilot project for further development. We’ve also talked about possibly investigating iPads for a different purpose. The group has been focused on technology because that was the need expressed by the teachers and staff last summer, but in general, the PFO is interested in projects that will serve the general school population.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or