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Willmar, Minn., teens attend boot camp on iPads they'll be issued at start of school year

Students and their parents attend an iPad boot camp Monday at the high school theater. About 60 students and their parents and guardians attended the meeting to familiarize themselves with the tablets and the school's policies on using them. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Like many students, Nate Mittag didn't think the talk of iPads for Willmar Senior High students would become a reality.

So he and other students were pretty happy to find themselves holding their Apple tablet computers Monday in the high school theater at the first iPad Boot Camp.

Nate, a senior, was there with his parents, Doug and Shannon Mittag of Willmar. "It's going to be interesting to see how they fit into school," he said.

Doug Mittag added that the devices would even things out at the school. "Some kids don't have a computer at home," he said.

About 60 students and their parents and guardians attended the meeting. Five more are scheduled before school starts on Sept. 4.

All juniors and seniors at the high school will be issued an iPad this fall.

The school staff has spent the past two years studying the best ways to use the devices in the classroom.

A community fundraising effort and school district capital improvement funds have been used to lease 650 iPads, enough for all students in the two grades, plus some extras for faculty and for use in other school buildings. The long-term plan is to extend the program to sophomores next year.

The Apple iPad was chosen over other tablet computers because it has a longer battery life and a greater number of education related applications.

At the meeting, faculty members Lyle Hovland, Tyler Gehrking and Rob Flegel discussed the school's policies.

The iPads are Willmar Public Schools property, Gehrking said. "If a staff member wants to see what's on your iPad, you have to show them."

Proper conduct with the devices was described. No photos or video of students or faculty are allowed without consent, and no photos or video are allowed in restrooms or locker rooms.

He urged them to "be smart" when downloading information from the Internet.

The school will have a filter on its internet service, but that may not be the case in most homes, Gehrking said. "You may not be filtered at home, but act like you are."

Students and their families are responsible for broken, stolen or destroyed iPads, Flegel said. Repair or replacement costs can run from $150 to $400.

The iPads must be fully charged and ready for each school day, Hovland said. "This is your textbook; this is your notebook," he said. "It needs to go home and back with you every day."

Students won't need to have internet access at home to do their homework, he said. "You can get everything you need at school."

Hovland urged the families to watch for a list of contributors at the school this fall and to thank people from the community who had donated to the effort.

Parents and students said they are looking forward to the coming school year.

"I like technology," said Annika Bergstrom, a junior from Raymond, attending with her mom Robin. "I feel like it's going to make sure we're all on the same page."

Karen Hauser of Raymond and her daughter, Sara, a senior, were also pleased with it, though Sara needed a little help with her password. "I think it's a step toward the way things are going to be," Karen Hauser said.

Ricardo Moreno, a junior from Willmar, said he thinks the iPads are a great idea. "I think it's going to be very beneficial for the whole school," he said. "It makes everything simpler."

His mother, Maria Uvalle, said, "I already told my boy, we need to check who gave the money, so we can say thanks." Ricardo added, "Thanks to the people who donated."

The district has signed a three-year $262,650 lease with Apple Inc. for 650 iPads plus applications. It will be paid in three annual payments of $90,398.82, including interest. At the end of the lease, the district will have be able to purchase all the equipment for $1 plus sales tax.

At the beginning of August, businesses, service organizations and individuals had pledged nearly $275,000 to the effort. The school district promised to use its capital outlay funding to match funds up to a total of $350,000. The capital outlay fund may be used for equipment and building improvements but not for day-to-day operating expenses.

Five other boot camps are scheduled: noon to 1 p.m. Aug. 16; 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 16; 2 to 3 p.m. Aug. 20; 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 20; and 4 to 5 p.m. Aug. 27. All of the sessions are in the high school theater.

Information about the iPad boot camps may be found on the Senior High website:

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

(320) 214-4340