School visitors see iPad success story

March 29, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

About 60 business and school leaders from across the country visited Henry County Schools on Wednesday to learn about the success of the school division’s iPad initiative.

Apple, which makes the iPad — a handheld tablet computer — coordinated the national site visit. School leaders who took part included principals, superintendents, school board members, technology directors and higher education representatives. Business representatives from Apple and firms in surrounding areas also took part.

The group visited three classes each at Rich Acres Elementary School and Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School. Students in all of the classes were using iPads.

The school system began its iPad initiative in 2010, when it participated in the Virginia Department of Education’s “Beyond Textbooks” initiative.

The department contributed 40 iPads to be used in two classes, but after those students success with the iPads, the school system invested more resources later that year to provide iPads for every fourth- and fifth-grade student, according to county school spokesperson Melany Stowe.

According to Stowe, each iPad costs about $500. When the program began, Henry County committed $790,000, much of it grants or stimulus funds, to buy 1,500 iPads. State grant funds also were used to buy the initial iPads in 2010, according to previous reports.

Additional funds have been spent on the project since then. A total figure was not available Wednesday.

This school year, third-graders were provided iPads, and more iPad carts were purchased for the middle and high schools, Stowe said.

With more than 7,000 students in the district, there are more than 3,000 iPads in use daily. All of the school system’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students have access to an iPad 24/7. The students also have digital math and social studies textbooks on the iPad, according to a news release. The students get to take their iPads home and then return them at the end of the school year, Stowe said.

Apple coordinates visits across the country throughout the year, Stowe said. Wednesday’s visit gave school leaders an opportunity to collaborate and let Henry County Schools share its successes with iPads and learn from other people, she said.

It is important for students to learn to operate digital devices because that “is where the world is going,” said Janet Copenhaver, the school system’s director of technology.

The more the students are engaged, the more they will adapt to the technologies, she added.

The use of iPads also has increased communications between children and their parents because students can show their parents what they have learned each day, Copenhaver said.

During the visit to Rich Acres Elementary, the school leaders viewed a video conference that was being conducted through an application on the iPads and projected on the SmartBoard. The students were communicating with students at Sanville Elementary School.

Daniel Lukich, superintendent of Lancaster County (Va.) Public Schools, found Henry County Schools’ iPad initiative to be “outstanding ... they are leading the way,” he said.

The school system “is doing it (the initiative) for the right reason,” which is to engage students of all ages in learning, he said.

Currently, there are 110 iPads in use by the 1,200 students in the Lancaster County Schools, Lukich said.

During Wednesday’s visit, he discovered applications available on the iPad that he didn’t know existed. For instance, students in an art class at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle designed art directly on their iPads, Lukich said.

In the classrooms, he noticed that all of the students seemed to be engaged in learning and reading while using their iPads, Lukich said.

The use of iPads in Henry County Schools allows teachers to provide more differentiated instruction, in which teaching methods are tailored to individual students’ needs, said Jane Finch, chief technology officer with the Nash-Rocky Mount Public School System in North Carolina.

Anthony Jackson, who was superintendent in Henry County when the iPad initiative began, left the county schools to become superintendent of the Nash-Rocky Mount system.

Finch called the Henry County Schools’ iPad initiative “well-organized” and said teachers let the instruction drive the technology.

She learned that implementing such an initiative requires that a team of instructors, technicians, board members and the superintendent work together, Finch said.

As part of Henry County Public Schools initiative, instructors were trained on how to use the iPads and the different applications available, Stowe said, adding that the training is ongoing.

“Henry County has always been a visionary in technology,” Copenhaver said. No matter if the county is facing hard times or not, the county strives to provide the best technology education for the students, she added.


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