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Jennie-O Turkey Store offers up to $50K matching funds for school iPad project

In this Jan. 23 photo, Willmar Public School Board members try out iPads during a meeting. The school district issued the board members the tablet computers as it moves toward paperless meetings. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The effort to raise money for iPads at Willmar Senior High got another boost Wednesday.

Jennie-O Turkey Store pledged to match all donations made to the Willmar Education and Technology Fund through Sept. 1, up to a maximum of $50,000.

A joint effort of the Willmar School District and the community is trying to raise money to provide Apple iPad tablet computers to all juniors and seniors when the next school year begins in September.

Jennie-O contributed more than $85,000 to the Willmar Schools in 2011.

"We place a high value on education, and we want to show our support for the Willmar school system," Glenn Leitch, Jennie-O Turkey Store president said in a news release Wednesday. "Therefore, I'd like to issue a challenge to local individuals, community organizations and businesses."

Leaders of the "iPads For Cardinals" effort are former Jennie-O CEO Mike Tolbert and his wife Sheila Tolbert. In the news release, Mike Tolbert said, "This is the jump-start we need to show that we are serious about advancing education in the Willmar community."

Senior High Principal Rob Anderson said he found the Jennie-O news "absolutely fantastic" for his building. He said the news was encouraging and made him more confidence that the fundraising goal would be met.

"It'll be an amazing community and school partnership," he said.

The district has worked with the business community in the past few months to establish the Willmar Education and Technology Fund as part of the Willmar Area Community Foundation.

The school district has pledged to match donations up to $350,000 from its capital outlay funds over the next two years. Capital funding can only be used for items like equipment and improvements to district property. It can't be used for day-to-day operations in the schools.

Teachers throughout the district have been working this year to develop ways to integrate the use of iPad tablet computers into the curriculum.

Each school building has at least one iPad cart which makes a classroom set of iPads accessible to any classroom.

School officials have worked to introduce iPads to classes gradually. However, teachers at Willmar Senior High say they are ready to move ahead with a one-to-one teaching situation with iPads, beginning with next year's juniors and seniors. They have chosen iPads because of their long battery life and the large number of education-related applications available for them.

The plan is to add one-to-one iPads for sophomores in the following year and to continue to use the carts for other grades.

Contributions to "iPads For Cardinals" may be sent to the Willmar Area Community Foundation at Box 1291, Willmar MN 56201. Include "Education and Technology Fund" on the memo line.