When the students of Sharon Springs Central School return from summer vacation, they won’t be hefting the usual spine-wrecking backpacks.
They’ll have all the same information, but instead of finding it in a mound of textbooks, it will all be in the slim shell of an iPad.
“What we’ve done is eliminate the 50-pound bookbag,” said Sharon Springs Superintendent Pat Green.
On the first day of school, iPads will be available for every student in grades seven through 12 in the district, which makes Sharon Springs a trend-setter in terms of technology.
“There have been a number of initiatives with laptops and iPads throughout the state, so we’re not the first,” he said, “but most of those are just within one class. We’re bringing it to the whole school.”
The benefits are pretty clear. Each machine comes pre-loaded with Internet research, word processing and PowerPoint software, along with the year’s textbooks.
Students not only get the lighter backpack but a more efficient learning system, with every resource literally at their fingertips. And as time goes on, it’s just going to get better.
“Right now, it’s just a picture of a textbook page,” said school Business Manager Tony DiPace, “but we’re trending toward the truly interactive.”
He said there is already movement toward textbooks that have short videos instead of pictures and moving tutorials to teach harder mathematical concepts.
“It’s an evolutionary process,” said BOCES Assistant District Superintendent Carl Strang. “Kids will have to adapt to the digital environment.”
Students don’t actually own the tablets. There is a pool of iPads owned by the school and lent to the children as needed, rather than each student being assigned a specific tablet.
“Sharon Springs has a net aggregate sufficient for every student who needs one to check out an iPad,” he said, “which is a great place to be.”
A few hard-copy textbooks are kept in stock for those who don’t treat the technology with respect, but the number of book orders will decrease substantially.
“The cost of the PDF version of a textbook is less than the print version,” DiPace said, “and when they are updated, we can download them right away instead of having to wait a few years.”
There are a few reasons Sharon Springs put the project in motion now.
It is a small school district with just 300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Only 150 iPads had to be purchased, rather than the few hundred that would be necessary for a program of the same magnitude at a larger school.
Sharon Springs is also a high-need district, which means BOCES will reimburse a majority of the $215,400 initiative. The rest of the money is largely taken care of by a recent $40,000 grant secured by Sen. James L. Seward’s office.
“Many of our students come from households without computers,” Green said. “We have computer labs, but our teachers are sort of waiting in line for their classes to use them.”
Green said over the past few years schools have tried to get technology into the hands of their students, but the initial cash outlay has held many districts back.
Eventually, the arrangement at Sharon Springs might become more common, but for now, most kids will have to lug the usual weight of paper knowledge.