At a time when public school quality criticism is at an all-time high, one school district in Wyoming says, "One iPad per child and staff member." Converse County's School District #1 rural schools have taken a major technology step by issuing iPads to every student and staff member. Though Apple products are no strangers to schools, the decision to distribute iPads is a significant move forward in public education. It places equal technology in each student's hands regardless of socio-economic background or ability to pay. Having been both a student and a teacher myself, I commend the school district's wisdom in its decision to move ahead of the standard public school fare.
It's refreshing to know that there are school administrators who genuinely care about their student's educations. Don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that handing out iPads is the important gesture here. It's the fact that the faculty and School Board went forward with a decision that benefits the students, the parents and the staff. A rare act, indeed.
When I overheard the statement that, "All of our students have iPads," I interrupted myself and the overheard conversation. To my surprise, I had interrupted Lisa Weigel, Rural School Principal and District Special Education Director of the schools that implemented this incredible plan.
Ms. Weigel agreed to an interview about the program and how it's going for her school and students. Here is the body of that interview:
KH: What about costs? Apple products are very expensive, especially iPads, to provide one to each student.
LW: Cost was not really an issue as the cost to provide personal laptops for students was much more expensive than moving to individual iPads for student use.
KH: Were there any downsides to providing iPads to students and staff?
LW: One downside at least initially, was ensuring we had the infrastructure and support to manage our changes. We also had to develop a process including procedures for requesting and purchasing apps as well as providing technical training and support to all staff with regard to the iPad features and apps. We hired an Instructional Facilitator that is responsible for training, support, modeling/coaching staff with iPad uses.
Our District/School Board has really targeted instructional technology as a goal area for our entire district. Our rural school students recently provided a presentation during a Board Meeting regarding the use of their iPads within their classrooms. Many of our Professional Development Days and Fiscal Resources are allocated to support our efforts in technology. We really emphasize 21st Century Skills within each of our rural classrooms. Due to our rural schools being somewhat isolated, using FaceTime to connect with other schools has been another great learning tool. As the principal, I also use it to communicate with staff and students. Just today, one of the schools presented a literacy project they completed with me using FaceTime.
KH: How extensive is your use of iPads and what Apps do the students use?
LW: We currently use iPads for grades K-8 within our rural schools, which includes about 60 students and 20 staff members. We use a variety of Apps, some of our student/staff favorites are: Garage Band (our Music teacher uses this consistently with rural students within her music program) students have actually recorded their own songs, Math Ninja, Rocket Math (both reinforce math computation fluency), Sentence Builder (writing), Stack the State (Social Studies), State and Capital Changes, Super Why by PBS and First Word Spanish (reinforces Spanish Language).
For a full list of Apps used by Douglas' CCSD#1, visit the Rural School iPad Apps page.
KH: Do your schools use any other Cloud technologies other than Apple's iCloud?
LW: We use some Cloud based systems/technology for our district curriculum and our district IEP software system.
KH: Do you have any advice or warnings for schools that might want to do this?
LW: Professional Development Training is essential to ensure staff and students are equipped to implement such innovative technology!
Douglas, Wyoming, population ~6,000, isn't the first place that you'd think of for its forward-thinking attitude toward technology or for its ability to make a leading-edge decision. This small, often wind-swept town in view of the Rocky Mountains and located on the banks of the North Platte River is quiet, conservative but technologically advanced.
About Douglas, Wyoming: Douglas - one of the best 100 Small Towns in America. In addition to being the Official Home of the Jackalope and a Tree City USA, Douglas is also proud to be the home of the Wyoming State Fairgrounds and Pioneer Museum, Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Douglas Railroad Interpretive Center, Douglas Community Golf Course, Douglas Motorsports Park, the final resting place of Sir Barton, the first thoroughbred colt to win the American Triple Crown.
Douglas is located on I-25 about 3.5 hours from Denver, Colorado; 3.5 hours from Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota; 3.5 hours from Devil's Tower and 3.5 hours from Thermopolis, Wyoming. There's a private joke that Douglas is 3.5 hours from everything but only about 35 minutes from Casper.
Douglas is a nice little town. Peaceful, but not immune to winter's chill or mountain pass-accelerated winds, it looks like a place right out of the Old West but with wide, paved streets. It's well worth a visit but be warned, the beautiful views of Laramie Peak and the North Platte River will make you want to stay forever. Life is good on the Oregon Trail.