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Willmar couple heading iCardinals Campaign to put iPads in schools

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WILLMAR -- It was the passion and commitment of the teachers that helped Mike and Sheila Tolbert decide to become involved in the effort to raise money for iPads for Willmar Senior High.

The Tolberts will be heading the iCardinals Campaign to raise $400,000 from the community to put Apple iPad tablet computers into the hands of each junior and senior at the high school this fall. The effort would provide iPads for about 600 students.

The iCardinals Campaign plans to raise $400,000 from the community to help pay for the iPads, cases, software and other needs. The original plan was to raise $350,000 but a steering committee of the fund drive has increased its goal.

The Willmar School District has pledged to match up to $350,000 in community donations. Jennie-O Turkey Store, headquartered in Willmar, has pledged to match up to $50,000.

Other businesses have donated enough to raise about 20 percent of the $400,000 goal, Mike Tolbert said. They hope to meet their goal by the end of the school year.

Mike Tolbert is a former CEO of Jennie-O, and he was later an executive at Jennie-O's parent company Hormel. They kept their home in Willmar, and settled here permanently after he retired.

The involvement in the iPad campaign came at the request of Dave Baker, who has spearheaded discussion between the school district and the business community.

Sheila Tolbert had some reservations about using iPads in the schools, but a visit with high school staff members won her over. At first, she said, she was thinking of social networking and concerned about cyber bullying.

"They showed us how it can be used way beyond social networking," she said. "They showed us how it was being used, and that's what inspired us to get involved."

Many young people have smart phones, iPods and other electronic tools at their disposal, and they learn so quickly with them, she said. "Then they get to school and go back to books, pencils and paper."

For young people whose families can't afford electronic gadgets, "this campaign lets us level the playing field," Mike Tolbert said. Students will be able to take their homework home on their iPads, which will contain their assignments and resources they need to complete them.

"I really think this community is ready for this," he said. "Regardless, technology is going to be our future."

They said they were impressed with the two years of preparation the school district has put in to the effort, too. Teachers in all the district's buildings are developing ways to use the tablets in their classrooms.

The fundraising campaign may have started with some larger donations, but "of course, we'll take any size donation," Sheila Tolbert said.

"We're looking for support across the community," Mike Tolbert said. "We're going to need grass roots support, from everybody who has kids in school, to grandparents, to people like Sheila and I whose kids are out of school."

A Willmar Educational and Technology Fund has been established with the Willmar Area Community Foundation, and donations may be sent there. The Tolberts said they also plan to introduce an Adopt-an-iPad program, too.

The Tolberts are writing a blog on the Tribune's Area Voices website. The address is

Contributions should be sent to the Willmar Area Community Foundation, Box 1291, Willmar MN 56201. Write "Education and Technology Fund" on the memo line.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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