The young man with the tousled hair was bending over a glowing screen in a Southridge High School classroom Wednesday.
"I want you to find me the penny," Vice Principal Molly Hamaker-Teals said to the student.
David Merkulov, a 20-year-old who next summer will have to go out in the world and make a living, looked at the row of images on the screen. Slowly, he tapped one of the pictures.
"Penny," a recorded voice said from the Apple iPad in his hands.
Merkulov earned a high-five from his vice principal.
"Nice job," Hamaker-Teals said. "Now, which one is worth more -- the nickel or the dime?"
The two continued with their first test of this new high-tech tool in Tri-City life skills classrooms.
Modern Living Services, a local nonprofit that works to provide training for young adults with developmental disabilities, delivered nine Apple iPad tablet computers to high schools in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick this week. The tablets come loaded with software that has proved to be beneficial for teaching students with disabilities.
The tablets were paid for with federal stimulus money that trickled down to the nonprofit from the state's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
The exercise with the coinswas just a way for students to get used to handling the small computer that had arrived in their classroom minutes before, said Dawn Johnson, a life skills job coach at Southridge.
Soon, the students will be using one of several applications -- apps -- designed with them in mind. It will help keep them on schedule throughout the day, for example.
Life skills students receive training in basic tasks that will help them find work after graduation. The iPad can send out reminders shortly before the task needs to be completed, so students know to start cleaning up, for example.
This would mirror an experience in the real world, where one can't just drop everything when the shift is over, Johnson said.
Students in the higher grades spend parts of their school days working in the community. Merkulov, for example, works at Life Care Center, a Kennewick nursing home.
Freshmen get training in the classroom before they go out to a workplace the following year.
Johnson this year will record video of seniors working in their jobs and show those videos to next year's freshmen on the iPads.
"A lot of them don't have full comprehension of what it means to be at work," Johnson said.
Seeing the video clips will help them understand what will be asked of them.
Perhaps the most dramatic impact for some students will be using an app called Proloquo2Go. It puts a number of icons with captions on the screen that stand for parts of sentences.
Jessica Schultz, a board member of Modern Living Services and of Goodwill of the Columbia, showed what the app can do when she delivered the iPads on Wednesday.
An initial screen gives options such as "I am looking for ...," or "Can you please ..." When the user taps one of those icons, new icons pop up that continue the sentence, such as "... help me find ...," followed by another screen with pictures and names of things one might want to find.
The user can build asentence by tapping the icons and the computer sounds out the sentence at the end.
Some students -- those with severe cerebral palsy or autism, for example -- can't communicate with words at all, Schultz said. But they have no problem using the pictures.
Until now, providers of services for people with disabilities used cards with pictures. But the electronic version is much quicker, more intuitive and leads to full sentences.
"This is really helpful," Schultz said, pointing atthe iPad in its sturdy protective case. "Even students who can't communicate at all can use it immediately."
The iPad doesn't replace teachers -- it's another tool in their arsenal to keepspecial-needs students engaged and to give them personal attention, Johnson said.