This story comes to us from NBC Latino.
Other districts might have instituted pilot programs. One elementary school, one high school at a time. A gradual trickle of new technology into the classroom. The McAllen Independent School District (ISD) is trying a different approach. One iPod touch or iPad — 25,100 in all — for every student in its district.
“We went all in,” says district superintendent, Dr. James Ponce, as Apple prepares to unleash its newest iteration of the iPad. “It was right for our situation.”
The McAllen ISD’s situation was two-fold.
It wanted to best serve its students — who are 91 percent Latino — in a way that would level the playing field and give them access to technology they may not previously have had. The district also wanted to transform its learning environment on the fly to prepare its students for colleges and careers that expect proficiency with the latest technology.
So it launched TLC3, the largest program of its kind in the country involving iPads, which seeks to transform learning in the classroom, campus and community.
“We see it as the great equalizer,” says Mark May, a communications specialist for the district. “We live in an area which is very close to the border with Mexico. We have a lot of low income families who do not have a home computer. By providing a computer to every child they will have the resources and the skills to achieve in higher education and in a 21st century world that is so technology driven.”
Daniel Guerra, 16-year-old sophomore from McAllen Memorial High School, says the iPad he’s been given has helped him in school.
We were reading a novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and there were not enough books to issue out to the kids,” Guerra says. “We downloaded an app called iBooks and were able to get the book on the iPad for free.”
Guerra adds the iPad has lessened the mad dash to the computer for his family and made completing assignments easier.
“We have one computer at home and everybody is constantly fighting over it,” he says. “My oldest sister is a senior and always has a lot of homework. But now it’s like I have a computer of my own. It’s a great feeling to be able to do my homework when I want to.”
The program provides an iPod touch to children in kindergarten to second grade. Older children receive iPads. At this point 6,800 devices have been doled out and the rest will come in two waves, one in the Fall and one in January 2013.
It was important for the district that the deal with Apple includes a special wrinkle.
“We worked out a lease program in which the iPads are replaced every three years,” says Carmen Garcia, the Director for Instructional Technology for McAllen ISD. “This way students have the newest and latest technology.”
The superintendent, Dr. Ponce, says educators can’t continue to just expect children to sit down in the classroom while losing the interaction with technology that is so crucial for their development. But he says part of his challenge is educating the adults who will teach the children as well.
“We are digital immigrants trying to create a system for the digital native.”
He says his role has changed throughout the years.
“It used to be that you were preparing students for a job,” Ponce says. “Then it became that we were preparing a child to change jobs four times. Now we’re preparing children to create four jobs in their adult life. How do you get kids ready to create their own job?”
“How do you measure creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication in a new way?” he says. “How do you help prepare a well-rounded college and career-ready student?”
Ponce has his questions but he’s confident that technology is the answer.
Adrian Carrasquillo is a reporter with NBC Latino.
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