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Podcast: Setting Up a Technology Fund with Mark Carrara

In our very first episode of the TechUnwreck Podcast, we sit down with Mark Carrara, the Technology Director at Amy Biehl Charter High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss how to set up and manage a K-12 tech fund, how to work around state mandates about device donation, and the advantages of fostering a sense of ownership between students and their devices. Read below to learn a little more about what Mark covers during our conversation.

About Amy Biehl Charter High School

Amy Biehl Charter High School is a social justice and social service-driven charter school located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a charter school, they operate independently of other Albuquerque school districts, instead working directly with state. From their website:

Amy Biehl High School was founded in the spirit of Amy Biehl, a young scholar dedicated to social justice and service. We graduate diverse learners and leaders who demonstrate the intellectual, social, and ethical habits to improve their communities. Our graduates are civic-minded, college-bound, and career-ready.

Currently Amy Biehl High School has a fleet of about 300 Chromebooks.

The Case for One-to-One

Mark's mission from the first day he stepped foot into Amy Biehl High School was to make sure that all students had equal access to the educational tools they needed at home. In those early days, almost 60% of the student body qualified for free or reduced lunch. In Mark's eyes, that made digital equity a massive priority. Prior to going one-to-one, the school relied on carts with Windows laptops that needed near-constant maintenance, and an often-overbooked computer lab. Going one-to-one (and making the move away from Windows laptops) would solve countless headaches. Not only would every student have access to educational resources 24 hours a day, but switching from clunky Windows computers to more streamlined and economical Chromebooks would save Mark valuable time and the school significant money. Now that the students are using Chromebooks, Mark is testing the practicality of switching all faculty to Chromebooks as well.

Starting a Self-Insurance Program

In the first year of being one-to-one, the school did not charge students any sort of fee outside of an annual $20 payment to cover printing costs. But within a year of having Chromebooks out in the wild, Mark and the administration knew that needed to change. In the years following, an additional tech fee would be added to help offset the cost of damaged devices. Today, Amy Biehl High School charges each student an annual $60 fee that covers all technology-related expenses, from printing to software licenses to Chromebook replacement. Mark told us that they currently have about a 10% breakage rate with the most common issue being broken screens. As far as damaged devices go, they have a 'no questions asked' policy. If a student breaks their Chromebook, they just need to drop it off with Mark and he'll hand them a working device. Damaged screens and keyboards can be fixed in-house by Mark and his student assistants, but he's also considering working with a third-party repair service to help streamline the process. And any unfixable devices are used for spare parts. But what about if a student loses their Chromebook? Or if it's stolen? Their tech fee currently does not cover lost devices. If a student loses their computer, they're on the hook for the cost of a replacement. However, if their computer is stolen, they just need to provide a copy of a police report with a detailed account of the event. All things considered, these are all relatively rare occurrences at Amy Biehl. Mark estimates that they see roughly 1-2 lost or stolen devices a year (with a slightly higher rate during the pandemic).

Advice for Going One-to-One and Starting a Self Insurance Program

Mark's advice:

Let students take ownership of their devices. This includes setting their own screen savers & backgrounds, putting stickers on the surface, and letting them take the devices home - even for the summer. This sense of ownership results in the students taking better care of "their" devices.

As a small charter school, Amy Biehl High School is a unique circumstance, but they stand by their approach of trusting students to treat school property with care and respect. Mark has found that this sense of ownership significantly improves how students take care of their devices.

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