Students in Coach Jennifer Mangino's health class at Ridgeland High School utilize their new MacBook Airs during a morning lecture.
Students in Coach Jennifer Mangino's health class at Ridgeland High School utilize their new MacBook Airs during a morning lecture.
RIDGELAND - When Ridgeland High School's Peter Glover teaches his ninth-grade geography class about the Italian Peninsula, he doesn't have to pull down the roll-up map from the top of the dry-erase board at the front of the class.

He doesn't have to tell the students about the canals that serve as streets in the city of Venice, or direct them to a black-and-white picture of a man on a gondola in their textbooks as proof.

Walking down the halls of Ridgeland High - or any other public high school in the Madison County School District - peering into the classrooms, it's easy to see why. Every student has a laptop out on their desk, and they can see for themselves.

Those freshmen in Glover's class, learning about what makes the Italian Peninsula distinct, can look at an interactive map. When it comes to Venice, they can use Google Earth to take a stroll through the famous Rialto Market.

It's just one example of the empowerment the 1:M Initiative, which placed a MacBook Air laptop computer in the hands of each and every high school student, has brought to the Madison County School District.

"It's just awesome," Glover said outside of his classroom, shortly before school started Wednesday morning. "I asked the kids the first day if they'd rather have me stand up there and talk or whether they'd rather do something interactive, and they all said 'interactive.'

"These kids might show up without a pencil or paper, but they aren't about to show up without their laptop."

As students walk down the halls, they aren't weighed down by five or six books, binders and notebooks. They're laptop serves as all of these things.

Paper usage, Ridgeland High Principal Eric Brooks said, has been cut in half, and there's a chance the students won't have back problems by age 30 because they aren't carrying around book bags that weigh 30-35 pounds.

As a result, teachers at Ridgeland High said, lessons tend to move faster. Michael Specks, an economics and government teacher, said he's allotting 10 minutes to material when he was setting aside 20 minutes to a half-hour. Material-wise, he explained, more ground is covered, and faster.

"I've found that I can get through a chapter twice as fast," Specks said. "We have to focus on test results to make sure (the students) are still retaining the information at the same rate, but it's easier because we are engaging with them in their world."

Specks said he assigned students in his classroom Monday to work on a new economy project that included a research paper. Instead of heading off to the library to pour through encyclopedias or use the school computer lab, each student pulled out their respective laptop and started doing research.

The first-year Madison County teacher walked through the class looking over the shoulders of the students, advising them which sites were legitimate sources of information and which ones should be avoided for research purposes.

"I try to tell them not to use Wikipedia for everything," he said. "They still have to have direction, but this makes the research process much easier and convenient."

Logan McArthur, a senior in Specks' class, was working Wednesday before class started, and using his MacBook to do it.

"It makes everything easier," McArthur said. "Like right now, I'm using it to define these terms, and it's much easier to look them up online."

The senior, who transferred from Madison-Ridgeland Academy this year, said the only problem he's had is that his laptop died one day because it wasn't charged.

"But that was my fault," he said.

As stark a change as the initiative has sparked in the classrooms, it's done just as much outside of them for Ridgeland High's 869 students.

"When you walk into the field house of the RHS Titans football team, you'll see players with their laptops out during the down-time," Nancy Rawls said. "And we're talking about football players, here."

Teachers assign homework to be completed online (with a built-in, automatic grader), they have the option of creating a discussion thread on the server, so that if a student struggles with an assignment, they can ask questions of their classmates and the teacher, all while working at home.

"The beauty of it is that I can be sitting at home, in front of the television, and answer student's questions," Ridgeland ROTC teacher Sgt. John Mills said. "I can take my work with me wherever, and because it's a MacBook Air, it's light and it's easy to use."