PASCO -- Katie Casazza said she already can tell her life will be easier using her Kindle Fire to read for her classes rather than a standard textbook.
The 14-year-old Kennewick freshman has just started attending Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco and hasn't had to use her new e-reader in class yet. But that hasn't stopped her from reading other e-books on it and perusing the colorful illustrations used in her biology class' e-textbook.
"It'll be lighter," she said. "It'll be easier to read."
All 56 freshmen at the Catholic high school are required this year to have internet-capable devices to access e-textbooks and other materials for certain classes.
School officials and parents said the transition to digital textbooks from heavy volumes isn't without its challenges but is a step toward the future of education.
"By the time each class graduates, we could have saved each student $700," said Principal Arlene Jones.
Jones said the school has looked at moving toward e-textbooks and similar materials for about two years. She said the weight of some student textbooks, such as those for science and literature survey courses, were creating physically heavy loads for students.
Some parents also had begun asking the school if their students could bring their own devices into the classroom to supplement their coursework with online resources.
Jones said the goal was to find quality but free e-textbooks that students could use in lieu of a traditional textbook with a laptop computer, e-reader or tablet computer. Students must buy their own textbooks, so finding enough free e-textbooks was important in offsetting the cost of an e-reader, she said.
Freshmen will be using the e-reader primarily to access texts for their biology and human geography courses. Geography teacher Matt Potter said his students will subscribe to an online edition of National Geographic and use other online resources.
"It will stay more current, where textbooks might become outdated," he said.
Along with cost, requiring students to get e-readers also raised concerns of distraction in the classroom with students having access to games and nonacademic websites.
Jones said there will be network safeguards to prevent students from accessing some sites. Potter said there is a student policy that prohibits accessing nonacademic material while at school.
Despite concerns, though, school officials said the overall response to the e-reader requirement has been mostly positive.
"I expected the reaction to be horrific," Jones said. "I haven't had parents calling me in a panic."
Mary Beth Casazza, Katie's mother, said she was thrilled about getting the e-reader. Her oldest daughter, Rebecca, just graduated from Kamiakin High School and she said it would have been easier for her if she'd had an e-reader instead of numerous heavy textbooks.
Casazza said she had her concerns as well about the possibility of online distractions with her daughter's Kindle Fire, but it will save the family money over the long term and likely be important for her education.
"I know it's the future," she said.