Pasco School District to spend $1M on iPads, apps to help kids learn over summer

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 15, 2014 

The Pasco School District will spend $1 million to buy about 1,200 iPads to help students at five elementary schools maintain reading and math skills this summer.

The money will come from state and federal dollars provided to help the neediest students.

Details about the program, from deciding which students will be loaned the tablet computers to what applications will be loaded onto them, are still being determined, district officials said.

But schools have been using the devices for a few years and are optimistic that expanding their use outside the classroom will reap benefits.

"The kids are so excited to use an iPad for any reason," Assistant Superintendent Liz Flynn said.

Second- and third-grade students at Whittier, Virgie Robinson, Rowena Chess, Longfellow and Emerson elementary schools will be targeted for the program.

All five are listed as priority schools by the state, meaning less than than 40 percent of students are at grade level in reading and math. Nine out of 10 students at each school also receive free- or reduced-price meals; many are English language learners.

Maintenance and construction projects at those schools this summer also mean the district can't offer summer school, which has been crucial for maintaining a student's knowledge and preventing the "summer slide," Flynn said.

That led the school board to consider loaning out iPads.

"What we wanted to do was provide a motivational tool," Flynn said.

The money will go toward buying the devices but also applications that will be installed on them.

About 40 books in English and Spanish will be loaded on each iPad through an app. There also will be apps that allow students to play math-centered games and other activities, Flynn said.

Students and parents will have to sign a contract promising to care for the iPad and return it, district officials said.

There will be no ability to access the Internet on the devices because the settings will be locked. The camera also will be disabled.

Many Tri-City schools use iPads in their classrooms, though few if any allow the devices to leave the grounds.

Third-grade students at Rowena Chess have used iPads for two years but only rarely was one of the tablets, worth several hundred dollars each, sent home for a student to use, said Principal Wendi Manthei.

And, so far, not one device has been broken while in use at school.

While many Rowena Chess students are still below grade level, they've shown more growth since the iPads made it into classes, Manthei said.

"When they finish their work early, they have something they can enjoy that's academic," she said. "The kids really saw them as a reward."

The district will test the students in the fall to see how well the iPads helped them retain their math and reading skills. Flynn said that information will be used to determine whether to keep or expand the program.

There could be some positive side effects from sending the devices out with students this summer -- brothers and sisters also will have access to reading and math apps to help keep their minds sharp, district officials said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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