"It was simply motivated by a desire to engage students more, and to make our education more relevant," says Calvin Baker, Superintendent of the Vail Unified School District.
And the kids are engaged.
"I use my computer all the time, anyways," Amanda says. "So it was, like, score!"
At her American history class, the teacher gives a traditional lecture. But the students take notes on their computers. Their homework is posted on the school Web site. They do research over the Internet and turn in their assignments online.
"I like it," says one student. "It's better than any other school I've been to — I think."
No textbooks, no books, no big binders, no pencils — it is a "weighty" issue. A typical high school student carries a heavy history book, math, English, science book, and two or three notebooks. Compare all of that with a featherweight laptop.
There is nothing Amanda and Andy miss about carrying books, they say. At lunchtime, every table in the school cafeteria is laptop heaven. For one student it was a perfect time to finish an assignment. Others were using their computers to listen to their favorite tunes and play games.
"We're talking to each other. We're playing our music. And play games on the Internet," one student says. "Whatever we want to do."
Actually, they're not supposed to do that. Luckily, the principal can keep an eye on their online behavior.
"I can go on my laptop and view what any kid is doing anywhere on school," Principal Cindy Lee says, "and in doing that we found a couple little weird things: searching when they shouldn't be, or instant messaging, or e-mailing."
Despite their savvy at playing games, some kids had to be taught how to use a computer for school.
"Useful computer skills, or the lack there of, has really been a surprise to me," teacher Jeremy Gypton says.
He is finding some kids don't know about saving files.
"When they save it, they get this look of shock on their face, 'Where did it go?'" he says. So it's a whole new way of saying "I lost my homework."
Not to worry. The school's nerve center has a copy. Kids who used to say their dog ate their homework now have to see Wayne Gritis, the site technology coordinator, to retrieve their files.
"They couldn't get it would be my biggest problem," Gritis says. "Yes, we have it backed up on some of our servers, and so even if their machine goes down, we can bring it up on another machine. So there aren't many excuses left."
For teachers, it's a challenge.
"It feels like the difference between swimming in a swimming pool vs. swimming in an ocean," math teacher Melinda Jensen says. "When you're in a pool, the boundaries are set. You know exactly where everything is and what everything is. And when you are in the ocean, it is limitless."
Already some kids are pushing the boundaries of their laptops.
"I was the first kid to max out my memory," one boy says. "I had a bunch of songs, pictures and video clips."
Empire High hasn't ditched books altogether. They do have a library and it will be filled with books.