All Kindergartners Getting iPads in Lower Merion
About 400 tablet computers, costing almost $500 apiece, will be deployed throughout the school district to the youngest students.
Every student in the Lower Merion School District's 14 kindergarten classes this fall will have an Apple iPad tablet computer for lessons, district technology director George Frazier told Patch.
The iPads would stay in the classrooms, which was the arrangement this year for "pilot classes" that used the devices: a kindergarten class at Belmont Hills Elementary School and a first-grade class at Cynwyd Elementary School, Frazier said.
Classrooms with morning and afternoon kindergarten classes would have morning students sharing iPads with their afternoon counterparts, according to school officials.
Those students had some of the approximately 150 iPads deployed in the district this year. About 250 more will be bought in bulk for the coming school year, at $488 per iPad, Frazier said.
"We found them beneficial for engagement," Frazier said. Many students using the devices demonstrated more interest and involvement with lessons than their peers following more traditional curricula, he said.
"There's clearly going to be more engagement (from) the student on something that's interactive," Frazier said. "More engagement translates to more learning."
On a recent Monday morning, Belmont Hills Elementary had a power outage of almost an hour. But teacher Carrie Mink's kindergartners had virtually no trouble focusing. She gave them a word, and the children first drew the word in one iPad program, then "mixed and fixed" the letters of the word in another program that simulated a magnet board.
The district began contemplating large-scale tablet programs in 2010, Frazier said. The North Penn school district is following suit.
This spring, the school district used reserve funds to trim a planned tax increase for 2012-2013, but the average household still stands to pay more than $100 above the previous annual tax bill. Most district employees' contracts are up for renegotiation at the end of June.
Frazier knows an iPad program costing more than $120,000—just for the new ones—is a considerable expense, but one he believes is a strong investment.
"People are asking, 'Will it save money?' It's less expensive than a laptop, anyway,'" Frazier said.
High school students each have their own laptop computers.
As with the laptops, "we hope to get four years out of them," Frazier said. "And many of the applications lend themselves to younger children."
The iPad program is not increasing the technology budget, according to Frazier. The district allots money each year to replace outdated equipment, and this year officials found they had enough working laptops at the high school level and elsewhere that they could use the replacement budget for a new technology initiative instead.
The school board is set to approve a final 2012-2013 budget, including the expanded iPad initiative, at 8 p.m. Monday, June 11, at the administration building next to Lower Merion High School.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify how iPads and laptops are purchased and assigned in the school district.