By Emily Bialkowski
Paperwork, fresh school supplies and a new bag of socks are to the start of a new school year like football is to fall. But this year parents of Caledonia fourth, fifth and sixth graders will be getting a 12 page iPad policy to sign and an optional iPad protection plan agreement that will cost $50.
From Minnetonka to Dover-Eyota, districts near and far have made this investment in one-to-one computing to prepare students for the 21st Century. Textbooks covered with brown paper grocery bags are being replaced by these $600 devices.
Caledonia Superintendent Ben Barton has been a passionate force behind this technology upgrade. “Toward the beginning of last school year we started having the conversation, and I guess we were of the opinion that we could talk about this for years and years or we could move and take action. We made the decision to take action,” Barton said in a recent interview.
“We’re preparing students to thrive outside the walls of this school. We have to prepare our students for the world 10 years from now, not the world of yesteryear. If we don’t, we’re doing our kids a huge injustice.”
As the district invests approximately $33,000 a year on leasing iPads – a tablet computer developed by Apple – parents will have the option of buying a $50 per year insurance plan in case their child has an accident with their iPad.
The actual device, as stated in the protection plan, is valued at $579, and the case is another $20. Insurance covers accidental damage and theft but not lost devices. Coverage is limited to two claims per year up to $599 in total.
“We haven’t come across any district that doesn’t have some kind of insurance plan; however, we found the majority of districts make that mandatory – it’s not mandatory in Caledonia,” Barton said.
If a family chooses not to purchase insurance, the cost of repairs or replacement is the responsibility of the family.
The other variable in this equation is responsibility, Barton said. “We have to come to grips with the fact that we’re giving our students responsibility.”
To assist through this transition, parents of fourth, fifth and sixth grade students have been invited to one of three mandatory iPad distribution sessions Aug. 19, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m.
During the hour and a half meeting, the appropriate paperwork will be ﬁlled out, policies and procedures reviewed, the optional annual insurance fee paid and the student will receive their iPad in preparation for the school year.
The implementation of this one-to-one computing strategy comes with very specific goals, as outlined in the district’s policy. They include:
• Enhance and accelerate learning in order to improve student achievement
• Leverage technology for personalized instruction
• Promote collaboration and increase student engagement
• Strengthen 21st century skills necessary for future success
• Provide equity for all learners while also committing to a specific set of goals
Instrumental in the research and development of this pilot program, the district’s technology task force has been aggressive in getting its ducks in a row before the start of the school year.
Site visits, phone calls and meetings have been taking place for a year.
Tina Fruechte, a 15-year veteran of the district and task force member, said this effort is paramount to student development.
“When the (high)school was first built we had the new computer lab, but since then it didn’t seem like we were moving forward like we needed to. I think we wanted to move quickly to catch up and maybe get ahead. There are many people in the school – teachers – who want to see the school excel,” Fruechte said.
“There’s been a lot of research, time and effort spent on this,” Eric Jerviss, technology coordinator, added.
All the effort in the world wouldn’t have made this program possible without money, and that’s where the district’s taxpayers come in. Twice now voters have agreed to the district withholding $495,000 from its middle school/high school bond payment for facility and technology needs.
“If that money wasn’t available this wouldn’t be happening,” Fruechte said in appreciation of the community’s support.
In addition to the $33,000 per year lease, Caledonia needed to upgrade its wireless internet service.
“Last summer we put in all new wireless infrastructure in both buildings. That has moved us forward to even allow us to have iPads. We’re constantly adding more access points to accommodate mobile devices,” Jerviss said.
iPads will never replace good old reading, writing and arithmetic, but they will enhance the teaching and learning environment, Barton said.
To help teachers learn how to use the devices, Fruechte has been named technology integrator and will teach teachers and staff about the functionality of this tool.
Fruechte is ready for the challenge. “We’re trying to set some short-term goals with teachers to not throw too much at them at once. The same goes with students as well,” she said.
iPads and the application “Schoology,” a classroom management tool, will allow teachers to post lessons, assignments and offer personalized feedback to students. It’s similar to Facebook, which allows users to post information, comments and messages online.
Students in return can research projects, review lessons, work on assignments and send a message for help on this device. Eventually, it will be a one-stop shop for everything related to school. From communicating a game cancellation to sending out test results, one-to-one computing is the direction Caledonia is heading, along with a lot of other U.S. schools. In fact, one in every six U.S. districts has some form of one-to-one computer learning program in one or more of its schools, according to a report by the Center for Digital Education.
As this transition unfolds Barton said he hopes the community sees this as an exciting endeavor.
“Reading, writing and arithmetic and the basics are always going to be important, and we can’t ever lose site of that; however, I will go back to my mantra: We need to prepare our students for life outside the classroom.”