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Schoolcraft Learning Community: Welcome student, here's your new iPad2

From left, Stacy Bender-Fayette, Schoolcraft Learning Community's technology integration specialist, assists teacher Marilyn Delaney in issuing an Apple iPad2 to sixth-grader Tommy Saxton (far right). Nearly all middle school students at SLC received an iPad this week to use at school for the remainder of the year. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

When it comes to learning school policy, parents of students at Schoolcraft Learning Community have a lot to think about. The school recently enacted a policy on the use of Apple iPads, which are small, portable, tablet computers. As of Monday, nearly every sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader at SLC has received an iPad2.

Parents and their children were briefed on how to use the new devices earlier this week.

"Not everyone likes change," SLC's Technology Integration Specialist Stacy Bender-Fayette said to the adults and children sitting in the school's cafeteria Tuesday evening. "My motto for this year is 'Without change, there would be no butterflies.'"

Last year SLC received a $189,750 technology improvement grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which the school used in collaboration with Bemidji State University, Apple Computer Inc. and Expeditionary Learning Schools.

The grant allowed the school to replace its outdated computer lab with new laptop computers, digital cameras, video camera, an Apple iPod learning lab with 20 mobile devices, global positioning system units, digital microscopes and digital probes.

Several months later the school was chosen as one of seven school districts to receive extra dollars from the same grant, giving SLC an additional $68,500.

School officials decided to use the money to purchase approximately 80 iPad2s, as well as computer software programs and training materials.

The electronic device allows students to use the Internet wherever wireless Internet is available. They can also look at maps, create movies, take photos and shoot video, read electronic books, listen to music, play games and use tools like a protractor and graphic calculator.

"When you look at what the 21st Century skills are - it is communication, collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking," Bender-Fayette said. "We do that well without the technology, but when you add those technology pieces, it's so much better."

These devices, she added, will change the way students learn and how they share their knowledge.

While receiving the new gadget this week felt like Christmas for many students, some parents now have their work cut out for them in trying to monitor their child's technology habits.

Understanding lingo like "external hard drive," "syncing," "Google Apps" and "WiFi" is essential for SLC parents. Every student at SLC has a password and username through Applications for Education, an online program that allows students to work on their classroom projects from any computer with Internet capabilities. Parents are given their child's password and username, but they need to know where to go online in order to use them.

Besides encouraging their kids to brush their teeth before bedtime, parents now must make sure their children plug in their iPad to make sure the device is fully charged in the morning. An iPad with little or no battery power is as useless as homework left at home.

When choosing a backpack for the school year, parents were asked by school officials to consider buying a padded one in order to keep the iPad from being broken. Students also have been asked to treat their backpacks more kindly.

It is ultimately the student's responsibility for taking care of their iPad, according to SLC's new policy.

Each student is provided with a durable iPad case, but devices that are broken or fail to work properly must be taken to the school's technology department for an evaluation.

According to Bender-Fayette, each iPad2 costs $560. If an iPad is lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair one time, the student must pay 50 percent of the replacement cost (including shipping) for a new iPad. If the iPad is lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair more than one time, the student is responsible for paying the entire replacement cost for a new iPad.

At the information sessions held this week, parents signed an iPad program fee agreement which included a request to parents to pay a $50 program fee per student to help fund the costs of the iPad case, repairs and computer software.

In order to keep iPads safe and accounted for, school officials have set up a system that can locate each iPad. Each device is engraved with a code that school officials have linked to a database that matches a particular iPad with a student's name.

"If there was a situation where there was a theft or an iPad disappeared, that is the information we would give authorities to be searching for," Bender-Fayette said.

As long as the iPad is connecting to a wireless Internet network, school officials also can remotely wipe out the content of the iPad, "which is pretty amazing," Bender-Fayette said.

Parents are given the option of whether they want their child to bring home their iPad or leave it at school. At school, students can leave their iPad2 in their cubby, but the school still has yet to designate a secure place for the iPads at school.

But with new and easier ways of communicating also comes conflict, especially when bullying crosses over into the digital realm.

At the information sessions, parents and students were given information about cyber bullying, which is when a child or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child or teen using the Internet or mobile phones.

"Our goal is to make all of our students feel safe using this technology and also know they are expected to use this technology in a way that is respectful toward others," said Brooke Wichmann, SLC's conflict management teacher.

Monitoring what students look at online can be difficult for parents and the school's technology staff to handle. But Bender-Fayette said every teacher at SLC has received training on the iPad and the school's new policy and will be there to help.

After attending the information session with his father, sixth-grader Tommy Saxton said getting to use an iPad "is going to be pretty cool."

He added he is excited to try out the new math games installed on it and thinks the device will offer new learning opportunities.

His father, Robert, said he is worried about the iPad breaking, but is also excited about the opportunities that will now be offered to his son.

"It's all happening so fast it just kind of blows your mind away," he said. "It puts you back on your heels with all of what you are capable of getting access to and learning with these devices. I'm still amazed by James Bond, but we're like light years past that already."