Is McAllen ISD the Most Forward-thinking District in America?

More than 27,000 students will begin receive iPads and iPod touch devices as part of a program to upgrade educational technology and save on future textbook costs. 
Wed February 29, 2012 11:53 pm
Flickr | Lexie Flickinger

The tech world may be buzzing about next week's rumored iPad 3 launch . But if you're a student in McAllen, the iPad 2 will do just fine.

As Elizabeth Findell of the Monitor reported, this week McAllen ISD began a long-in-the-works program to equip every student and teacher in the district with the Apple tablet: 27,000 in all, including smaller iPod Touch devices for younger elementary school students. More than 5,600 students and 140 teachers are expected to get theirs this semester. 

According to Christopher Sherman of the Associated Press, the estimated $20 million initiative might be "the largest iPads program for students in the nation," and would not only upgrade the school's educational technology, but also replace textbooks, which can cost up to $200 each themselves.

Wrote Sherman:

Stacey Banks, a social studies teacher at McAllen Memorial High School, helped the district shape its program. She said textbooks for her class were 12 years old and she hadn't used them in the past five years, choosing to cobble together her own lessons instead with hopes of collaborating with colleagues to build electronic textbooks.

Students get to take the devices home with them, the Monitor's Findell explained, but any time the iPad is connected to the Internet, no matter where it is, it will be subject to the same filters as any school district computer. Each tablet also includes tracking software. 

First announced in October, the school district's "Teaching Learning in the Classroom, Campus and Community" (TLC-3) program is about more than just the hardware. Back then, the Monitor's Neal Morton reported that the district's "Technology Cadre," comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and community members, were equally devoted to developing new curriculums and training staff to take full advantage of the tablets' educational potential,

McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce told Morton the cost of the program would be spread over three to five years using a mix of state, federal and private money, including grants for districts with low-income students. Ponce acknowledged ongoing concerns about school funding and state budget cuts, but said that bringing McAllen's students into the future could not be optional, "especially when we know what the future means in terms of greater college and career readiness."

At a school board meeting in January, McAllen board member Hilda Garza-DeShaz  compared it to the typewriters and typing classes that helped her get her first job out of high school in 1971. She said that back then, some people in the community thought that program was also unnecessary and expensive. 

In this KGBT report below about a first grade class with iPod Touches, elementary school teacher Ruth Whitton mentions another benefit to the computer age: reducing the weight of student's backpacks, which has come to be considered a health issue.

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