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After a year with iPads, Willmar, Minn., juniors and seniors are sorry to give them up

Juan Soriano, a junior at Willmar Senior High School, discusses the last year of using iPads in class. Soriano said he “liked the simplicity” of using iPads. “It’s pretty simple and straightforward.” Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Ramla Jama was sad on Wednesday, because she'd had to turn in her iPad that morning.

The Willmar Senior High School senior said she didn't know what to do. "I'm so addicted to it," she said, smiling. "I can't imagine writing on paper again."

A year ago, Jama and some of her classmates weren't all that thrilled with the idea of iPads. Adults in the community were raising money and were excited about the prospect of 1-to-1 Apple iPad tablet computers for juniors and seniors.

A group of students gathered at the Senior High this week to talk about the first year.

"I thought they were going to be a huge distraction," said Liz Haug, a senior headed to Ridgewater College in the fall to study agri-business.

"I didn't want one at all," added junior Alex Sobieck, as junior Dylan Schueler and the others nodded.

Abdiwahab Abdullahi's mother didn't want him to have one. He's a senior headed to Ridgewater to study to be a physician or go into another health-related field. His mother "thought I would play games all the time," he said.

Wilson Esquivel, a senior heading to the University of Minnesota-Morris to major in biology and eventually become a surgeon, said he was afraid of breaking or losing his iPad. Junior Juan Soriano added, "It's a lot of responsibility."

It didn't take long for their hesitation to give way to appreciation, however. Overall, the students seemed to think the year was a success.

After a year with the iPads, they had one word for their community's efforts on their behalf: "Grateful."

Jama is a good example of the students' ultimate acceptance of the new technology.

"I used it for everything," she said. The senior graduates on Sunday and is starting college classes next week with the ultimate goal of being a neurosurgeon.

The other seniors in the group agreed that it had been hard to give up their iPads, which belong to the school district. The iPads will be serviced and prepared to be redistributed to students next fall.

Haug had to give up the notes for her psychology class, even she still had a test to take the next day. Esquivel was scrambling to finish up some work before he had to give his up.

Juniors will turn in their iPads for the summer next week. They aren't looking forward to it, either.

The students shared similar stories about the advantages of having a tablet computer at their disposal.

"We saved a lot of paper," Schueler said. "You can pretty much do your homework anywhere."

Students were able to take their iPads along on trips to out-of-town sports competitions and do homework without dragging a backpack full of books along on the bus. They could research papers or class assignments anywhere that had an Internet connection.

If they missed school, they could catch up with assignments online. Students could use the iPads to make videos and presentations for classes.

"I felt way more organized about my homework, because I knew where everything was," Haug said. She didn't have to worry about forgetting a paper at home, because it was on the iPad.

The seniors found that the iPads gave them a good way to look for scholarships and research colleges and majors. "I did my college applications on it," said Esquivel. He submitted them with the iPad, too.

Sobieck said she liked that everyone had an iPad. "You don't have to feel bad if you have one and somebody else doesn't," she said.

Students who are deaf or have other special needs can use the iPads to communicate better with their classmates. Sobieck said that was another advantage, because "it doesn't make them feel left out."

The iPads were easy to use, too.

"I liked the simplicity of it," Soriano said. "It's pretty simple and straightforward."

The students learned to type on the keyboard on the iPad screen. Haug said she thought she could type on the screen faster than she could on a computer, but she thinks her handwriting has suffered.

Abdullahi's mother came around on the iPad, too. "She saw I was doing homework on it, and that it was easier," he said.

Some students did download and play games quite a bit at first, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly. The need to pay attention in class and keep up with homework kept them away from games much of the time.

If there was a drawback to the iPads, it was that websites might crash sometimes, and they would have to wait to finish an assignment, they said.

Haug said some things, like math and accounting worksheets, were easier to fill out on paper.

In some cases, the students had to wait for their teachers to get up to speed with the tablets. They believe things will go even better next year, as the faculty continues to adjust classes to accommodate iPads. "I notice how much paper we use in classes not using iPads," Soriano said.

The group was skeptical about the school district's plan to provide 1-to-1 iPads for grades 9 and 10 next year. Some wondered if the younger students would be mature enough. The others nodded when Haug said, "We're seniors, and when we first got them, we goofed around a lot."

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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