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NEW PALESTINE — Second-grader Ellie Strong whisked her fingers across the front of the iPad screen as if she had been using one for years, instead of a single day.

“I’ve never had an iPad before,” the New Palestine Elementary School student said with a smile.

The district is the first in the county to officially have one-to-one technology: Every student from kindergarten through 12th grade has been given their own computer device.

Administrators handed out iPad minis and iPads at all three elementary schools to complete the technology goal late last week.

“I think it gives us a really neat tool,” NPE Principal Mark Kern said. “It’s very timely, and in a sense we can get the latest educational information and data that is available.”

Most county schools are in some phase of rolling out access to computers for their students. Southern Hancock and Eastern Hancock have been the leaders of the trend for a couple of years.

Southern Hancock Superintendent Jim Halik said SH has paid an estimated $1.3 million on the

one-to-one program. The district used $300,000 in grant seed money and budgeted for the rest.

“This was all part of our long-term goal action plan,” Halik said. “This is something we have been working on and planning for at least six years.”

In SH schools, all kindergartners and first-graders were given iPad minis, while second- through fourth-graders received larger iPads.

“I like them,” fourth-grader Cameron Vahle said. “In math, we were doing lines of symmetry with them, and now we’re doing some vocabulary.”

The younger elementary-aged students were the last group of SH students to get to the one-to-one computing level.

“It’s a very exciting time,” SH technological integration specialist Amanda Hoagland said. “The kids are so anxious to get their devices, and so are the teachers.”

While most educators are glad to get the computers into student hands, they know there will be a learning curve for everyone involved.

Still, fourth-grade teacher Delia Floyd said the advantages of teaching through technology are endless.

“It’s exciting to have the one-to-one,” Floyd said. “For example, this lesson we’re working on now will give the kids some individual feedback so they can each practice and get the right feedback to their own answers.”

Rhonda Peterson, the district’s curriculum and technology director, said now that students are officially one-to-one, the district will soon be, for the most part, paper and textbook free.

“We are pretty much weaning away from the books,” Peterson said. “But, teachers will have a textbook in their classroom for reference, and there are a lot of free textbooks online.”

The only books being ordered in the future at SH will be for reading programs at the elementary schools – which is dictated by the state. They’ll also have to place a few special orders for Advanced Placement classes that require students to have the textbooks at the high school level.

“Those are really the only two exceptions,” Peterson said.

Noting that a shift has taken place in education with use of technology, Peterson said they are in the process of getting educators and students to accept the move. 

“We know there is an imaginary line we need to get people to cross over,” Peterson said.

To have one-to-one technology for each student is kind of a dream come true for administrators, Peterson said.

“Looking back over the years, we’ve always made technology a priority in this district,” Peterson said. “When I first came here in the year 2000, this district already had a lot of technology in place here, a lot more than most districts throughout Indiana.”

Several technology grants and years of planning helped SH officials move forward with their technology goals.

Other districts are doing the same thing.

Officials with Greenfield-Central schools recently received an Indiana Department of Education Technology Planning grant to develop a plan for a one-to-one initiative.

Assistant Superintendent Ann Vail said it will more than likely be the 2015 school year before they are able to begin using one-to-one.

“I imagine we will begin implementation at one tier and use a gradual rollout for other grade levels,” she said.    

Mt. Vernon school officials say they are at least three years away from being able to think about going to one-to-one computing. Administrators say they do offer pockets of technology to students now.

Second-grade classes at Fortville Elementary School have laptops for each student, but they stay at the school. The high school Language Arts rooms have computers for each student, but they are built in and must stay in the classroom.

“The reality is that one-to-one costs money, and that is a big hurdle for us right now,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Horton said.

Eastern Hancock is in the middle of its rollout of one-to-one computing for all students. Superintendent Randy Harris said all sixth-through 12th-graders have take-home computers, while fifth-graders have computers available in their classrooms.

 “We are looking to expand, but no decision has been made at this time,” Harris said. 

The one-to-one technology is slightly different for each grade level at Southern Hancock. Fifth-graders have laptops, while sixth-graders have MacBooks. All Doe Creek Middle School students also have MacBooks, while New Palestine High School students have been assigned MacBook-Airs.

While the elementary school students are not currently allowed to take home their new devices, Kern said someday, perhaps within a year, students will be able to do so.

That will level the playing field for families who don’t have access to technological devices at home.

“Some of the educational apps don’t even need Wi-Fi nowadays,” Kern said.

In order to make the transition from books to computers smoother for teachers and students, district officials are offering once-a-month training lessons at the elementary schools.

“We are offering training for all the different devices at all the different schools for all the different grade levels,” Hoagland said. “We have an iPad cafe that we are running after school that is optional for teachers to attend.”

Both Peterson and Hoagland admit, educators and families have to adapt and make a real mind shift when it comes to student learning today.

“A lot of people say you can’t put a layer of technology on top of traditional schooling and just magically think things are going to change,” Peterson said. “We know there has to be a lot of professional development.”

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