Penn Manor Tech Upgrades Come with a Price

Penn Manor students have gotten a technology upgrade in many facets of their school lives – from the lunchroom to the classroom.

Penn Manor’s students recognize the PolyVision Boards that have infiltrated  classrooms, or the finger scanners at lunch or even the laptops teachers use.

The Mac Mini
A new Mac Mini, and one of the many the school has purchase

But are all of the new upgrades for our school worth the cost?

“They (the PolyVision Boards) are, one hundred percent, an enormous tool for educators,” said science teacher Sally Muenkel of the classroom technology.

Last year, the computer labs in the school library replaced the old computers (which ran the Windows XP operating system) with brand new Mac Minis. The other school writing labs also got the Macs, so the school computers now run faster and more efficiently.

According to Apple, the Mac Mini is the world’s most energy efficient computer (and it’s small, too, at only three pounds), saving the school utility costs.

Every day,  the Penn Manor library computer lab is booked for all four blocks. With two classes of twenty occupying the space every block.  The library has over 160 students traversing it most days- and this doesn’t count the students using it before and after school.

“The bottom line is that the modern workplace is info rich and requires that our students are proficient with multiple forms of technology,” said Penn Manor technology director Charlie Reisinger.  “To not provide these services for our students would rob them of the skills necessary to be competitive in the global economy.”

Brendon Woods uses one of the Mac Minis.

Although one Mac Mini costs up to $699.00 retail Dr. Michael G. Leichliter, the district superintendent of Penn Manor said most of the new technology was paid for using the Classrooms For the Future grant money.

According to Leichliter, the district received about $600,000 to upgrade Penn Manor High School’s classrooms.

But before the technology could go in, the support for it had to put into the building itself.

Penn Manor High School was built in the 1960s, before wireless networking- or even the internet, so the school wasn’t built for the new network. The school spent nearly the same amount as the grant just to get the building ready for the technology.

The Mac Minis in the library and in certain computer labs were purchased with the technology director’s budget. Every year Reisinger has a set budget for replacement technology and new technology, said Leichliter.

The district is trying to be judicious, he said, in making upgrades from that budget.

The monitors on those computers were never replaced, even though they’re at least 10 to 15 years old.

The laptop carts alone cost around $35,000 each (including the laptops, of course).

“The library computers are checked out almost all the time. I would say 90 percent of the time,” said Susan Hostetter, Penn Manor’s high school librarian, as she surveyed the students working at the Mac Minis.

And then there’s the finger scanners, a entirely different technology.

In early 2009, Penn Manor implemented the M2SYS biometric systems so they could “increase the efficiency and security of the serving line transactions,” said administrators.

Every student (except the students who chose to opt out of the program) had their fingers scanned and entered into the school database in order to make lunch purchases quicker and more efficient.

“For a number of years, the Penn Manor School Board had been considering the finger scanners, and it was only recently that the action went through,” said Chris Johnston, the business manager for Penn Manor. “In some cases the finger scanners do make it faster to move through (the line), but when a student isn’t in the system or has trouble being registered, then it will cause a backup in the line.”

Almost every student chose to participate in the program.

But do the finger scanners – which are meant to save time and energy for both the cafeteria staff and the student – really save time?

“The finger scanners are really fast when they work.” said senior Lyndsay Funk, “But it’s really slow when there are difficulties – which is like once a week.”

She grimaces as she remembers  past lunch periods gone by. “It seems like half the time I scan my finger it denies me. Some kids it seems every day they have to scan like a billion times before the system finds them,” said Funk.

The finger scanners lose accuracy when a student with “greasy or sweaty hands uses them,” according to cafeteria personnel.  Then a film of dirt covers the scanner, and every student after that person begins to have difficulty scanning.

Technology advances lightening fast, and there’s only so much Penn Manor can do to keep up with it.

By Gabrielle Bauman