Fruitvale Independent School District (ISD) in Van Zandt County, Texas, serves a tiny town in a fruit-growing district on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Of Fruitvale's roughly 450 residents, less than 5 percent above the age of 25 have a college degree. Approximately 60 percent of children in the school district fall into the free and reduced lunch category, a measure that places them in a low-income demographic.
Yet the 97 children at Fruitvale Middle School -- the only middle school in the district -- are ahead of their peers in some wealthier districts, thanks to the state-funded Technology Immersion Project (TIP).
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) introduced this research-based program to study the long-term effects of regular laptop use on student learning and achievement. The agency awarded grant money to 22 qualifying school districts to incorporate technology into the curriculum, and in every classroom.
Above all, said Anita Givens, senior director for instructional materials and educational technology at the TEA, the grant program measures any change in student engagement and student achievement.
Fruitvale ISD qualified for the TIP pilot program partly because of its rural location and low-income demographics. In spring 2004, the district was awarded a $364,000 TIP grant to immerse Fruitvale Middle School in technology. That grant specifically supplied laptop computers for every student and teacher.
To apply, schools were required to outline their ability to implement the project in core academic subjects, and to prove a proper level of participation from the school community. The TIP application also required that the winning school have a majority of low-income students.
The project is subsidized with No Child Left Behind Act, Title II, Part D funds, which are intended to enhance education through technology.Ticket to Achievement
In a school district where only a handful of children in each classroom have Internet access at home, comprehensive access to technology at school can be a ticket to higher achievement.
When the TEA publicized the grant, Stan Surratt, superintendent of Fruitvale ISD, applied because Fruitvale Middle School houses the requisite grades six through eight.
In other districts, sixth grade is increasingly incorporated into elementary schools to give students another year to grow and develop before embarking on high-school style education with multiple classrooms and teachers.
"We figured that [trend] would eliminate quite a few schools at the outset," said Surratt. However, it was Fruitvale's economic situation that pushed its school district into the winning group. "We also have a high percentage of economically disadvantaged children, and knew we'd have a good chance of qualifying."
Fruitvale ISD formed a collaborative group with two other schools in east Texas to submit the grant application. In the first grant cycle, Fruitvale Middle School was chosen as an immersed technology school, with the other two schools serving as the control schools.
Immersed technology schools are expected to use 25 percent of the grant money for teacher training and in-school services to help them transform the school into a technology center. Immersion schools were instructed to adapt their normal teaching and administrative procedures where necessary to incorporate technology into the curriculum and classroom instruction. The grant money was also used to hire outside contractors for in-school training.
Control schools were given $50,000 each to spend at their discretion, with the agreement not to immerse their campus with technology or spend the money on computers or technology training. The state education agency wanted to compare student achievement in schools with technology immersion versus business as usual.
Structured with immersion programs and control schools, the TIP grant "is really like a federal grant," said Surratt, who explained the long-term research component of the program. In each school, children receive additional testing, and along with teachers, are expected to fill out surveys regularly. The state's education agency