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Willmar Senior High preparing to be all-iPad school

Lyle Hovland, left, and Tyler Gehrking, both teachers at Willmar High School, help clean-up the school iPads both inside and out Thursday at the school. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- It's no easy task to get 1,200 iPads ready to be handed over to teenagers.

With a little more than four weeks until the first iPad "boot camp" at Willmar Senior High, the school district's staff is preparing the Apple tablet computers so every student will have one by the first day of school.

Stacks of iPads covered tables in a classroom at the high school last week, while boxes of new tablets waited to be unpacked. Chargers and cases by the hundreds filled boxes.

After a successful 2012-13 year of providing individual iPads for juniors and seniors, the Senior High is expanding its one-to-one program to include everyone in the 9-12 school.

Students and staff have found many ways to use the tablets in the past year. Students use them to read textbooks, prepare presentations for classes and turn in homework. Special education students can use them to communicate with their peers. Teachers have developed locally written textbooks. Coaches record team stats.

The faculty continues to work this summer to develop new teaching materials and to adapt existing materials to use with the new technology.

The iPad initiative has been made possible by the school district's own capital equipment budget along with more than $300,000 raised in the local community through the iCardinals Campaign last year.

School officials had planned to expand the project to sophomores in the coming school year and use carts of iPads for 9th-graders. Crunching the numbers showed them that the cart method would actually be more expensive, though.

Several teachers are helping to prepare the tablets, using some of the remaining iCardinals funding. Next year, when fewer new iPads will be prepared, the tech staff will handle it.

More than 99 percent of the iPads used in the first year were returned in good condition. The school had some problems with broken screens during the year, but that was mostly solved midyear by purchasing better cases.

"They're in good shape," teacher Lyle Hovland said. He used cleaning wipes to wipe off the iPads, while teacher Tyler Gehrking plugged them in to carts to charge and refresh their software. They'll also be putting cases on the new iPads.

The teachers are working with Jason Hulstein, the district's director of instructional technology, and Matt Grams, a technician at the high school.

"We're going to be ready for them by the first boot camp," on Aug. 5, Hulstein said. The district held boot camps last year and will continue the practice. At the camps, students and parents sign contracts, students learn to sign on to the school's network and parents pay a $50 technology fee. Students in grades 10, 11, 12 will leave the camps with their iPads. Freshman will get them back on the first day of school.

Hulstein joined the school district nearly a year ago, and this is his second summer of preparing iPads. On his first day on the job, 650 iPads were delivered last July, he said.

This year, a couple hundred iPads from carts are being repurposed for individual use, and the school ordered several hundred new ones for the summer.

Hulstein is a Willmar native and worked for 15 years at Ridgewater College before coming to the school district. Since he had followed the iCardinals effort, "I did kinda know what was in store" when he took the job.

The district is changing some of its procedures for the second iPad year. The tablets will have barcodes, and students will check them out like a library book. That should make them easier to track.

Rather than loaning the apps along with the tablets, the district is able to purchase apps at a discount and then give them to students. That way, students will own the apps and will be able to use them after turning in the school tablet.

Hulstein said they are working to make sure the school's network can handle more iPads when school starts in September.

The network handled the first year's load of iPads well, he said, and he wants to make sure things go well when the new set is turned on, too.

Other projects for Hulstein and his staff this summer include developing an updated school website and keeping up with the many computers and other electronic devices in the school district.

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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