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Willmar, Minn., seventh-grader earns iPad, donates it to special ed classes

Seventh-grader Annie Schaefbauer, left, and Tracey Erickson, speech and language clinician at Willmar Middle School, discuss useful applications to be loaded onto a new Apple iPad2 tablet computer. Annie earned the iPad in a school fundraiser and donated it to Erickson for use with special education students. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf

WILLMAR -- Annie Schaefbauer worked like crazy to win the top prize in the Willmar Middle School fundraiser this fall. She wanted that Apple iPad2 tablet computer badly -- not for herself but to donate it to her school's special education department.

Annie, 12, who already knows she wants to be a special education teacher, said she knew the special education department needed another iPad. She sometimes works with special education students in Family and Consumer Sciences classes.

"I've always liked to help people," the seventh-grader said Tuesday morning, and she seemed a bit surprised at all the attention she was getting.

When she had the fundraising idea, she first went to her mother, Middle School social studies teacher Ann Hendershott, who told her, "Go for it." They worked together to put posters in the teacher restrooms and workrooms around the school.

Hendershott said she and her husband Dennis Schaefbauer are proud of Annie and her idea to help the special ed department.

"She came up with it on her own," Hendershott said. She walked their neighborhood with Annie and her poster. Their neighbors all helped out by making purchases.

The whole effort was a lot of fun, Annie said. She posted updates for the staff to see how close she was getting to her goal, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Annie said she didn't talk about her efforts much with other students, because she didn't want to interfere with the rest of the fundraiser. The school staff was aware of it, though, and many also purchased things from her.

Annie needed to sell more than 200 items in the sale, things like cookie dough, pizzas and wrapping paper. She sold 206 things for a total sale of $2,400. The school keeps 40 percent of that, said Principal Mark Miley.

Miley gave Annie her iPad2 on Tuesday, with more than 30 special education students and staff members looking on.

Annie placed it in the hands of Tracey Erickson, the school's speech and language clinician.

Erickson said she works with all types of children, and tablet computers are a useful tool. The Middle School has more than 160 students in all areas of special education among its nearly 900 students.

"We use iPads with the kids a lot," she said. "The problem is we don't have enough."

Kids who can't reach a Smart Board because of a physical disability can use the iPad to work on the same activities, she said. Lessons can be tailored to individual students, too, and she's noticed that they seem to master skills faster.

"The iPad takes away all the barriers," she said.

Erickson said she has had her teacher iPad and one other to use in classes. With Annie's donation, she'll have another one.

"You just don't know how much this means, sweetheart," she said to Annie.

Hendershott said she wishes there was a way to purchase more iPads for the school's special education department. The social studies department found room in its budget to purchase some iPads, she said, but not every department has been able to do that.

A community fundraising effort helped pay for iPads for all juniors and seniors at Willmar Senior High. That effort is expected to expand, but it likely will not reach the Middle School level for several years.

Miley said this endeavor helped Annie develop useful life skills. She took the initiative and demonstrated her ability to plan and organize.

"We're just very proud of Annie," he said, beaming. "It is very thoughtful."

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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