School plans to provide iPads

District has lease deal with Apple

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / March 24, 2011

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Students and teachers at Burlington High School next fall will be helping to break new ground in Massachusetts on incorporating technology in the classroom.

The school will be distributing Apple iPad 2s to students for use at school and at home. The district plans to acquire the computer tablets in a three-year lease-purchase with Apple, and then provide them to be used for free to all students who choose to participate.

“We just want give our kids access to the most current technology out there . . . so they know how to use it when they go to their next stop of college or the workforce,’’ said the high school’s principal, Patrick Larkin.

At least two districts in the western part of the state — Gateway Regional School District and Hampshire Regional School District — provide laptops for their junior high and high school students to use. But such “one-to-one’’ portable computer programs, though common in some states, are still relatively new in Massachusetts.

In this area, Beverly High School is also launching a one-to-one program next fall, with plans to provide students with laptops.

Burlington has added a special twist to its program by adopting the iPad 2, rather than a laptop, as its device. Larkin said he is not aware of any other Massachusetts school distributing iPads.

“We thought in getting started, it would make sense to find a device that would be pretty easy to use for everybody,’’ Larkin said, noting that iPads also have the advantage of requiring less frequent battery recharging than laptops.

“Tablet computing is the way of the future,’’ he added.

At Beverly High School, officials have tentatively settled on the MacBook laptop as their device but have not ruled out the iPad 2, according to Judy Miller, the district’s technology director. Students will be able to lease the units for about $25 a month with the option to purchase them for a nominal price upon graduation. Discounts will be offered to low-income students, and any student can opt out.

Burlington’s initiative adds to an overall push by the school district to open itself up to the use of new technology.

As part of that effort, the high school became a full wireless Internet access zone last fall, and all teachers were furnished with laptops. Several years ago, the school relaxed its policy on student cellphone use, allowing it in the cafeteria at lunch and giving teachers the discretion to permit it in their classrooms.

“If we asked typical career people how technology has impacted their day-to-day lives and jobs, everyone would be able to cite some specific examples,’’ Larkin said. “I think it only makes sense if schools are supposed to be preparing them for the real world, that kids should be learning some of those applications.’’

The iPad 2 initiative — details of which are still being finalized by a committee of administrators, teachers, parents, and students — will not pose any cost to students, though they will be responsible for replacing their iPad 2 if it becomes lost or damaged. Families will be able to purchase insurance to cover that possibility.

The tablets issued to students will remain with them through their graduation, when they will have the choice of purchasing them at a discount or returning them.

Larkin said he anticipates that within a few years the school may simply require all students to bring their own devices to school. But for now, the school will find a way to fund the estimated $550,000 three-year cost of the program. Larkin expects that savings from the initiative itself, such as from a reduced need for textbooks, could help cover the costs.

But the plan has been met with some skepticism.

In a posting last November on the blog Larkin maintains on the school website, Jason Tarpey, a senior at the high school, said he did not think iPads would be a good tool for the school because of the risk that students would break, drop, or lose them. “There is always the possibility of a student stealing one,’’ he added.

“I do not think [iPads] are a good option,’’ an anonymous poster said in November. “The main usage is for gaming, and typing notes on them will be so much more of a hassle.’’

But Sonia Rollins, a high school parent who serves on the planning committee, supports the initiative.

“These kids are already very hands-on with the technology, whether it’s their cellphones or they already have iPads or laptops. It only makes sense to integrate that into their education,’’ said Rollins, a former selectwoman.

Tim Calvin, an English teacher at the high school who serves on the planning committee, said he is “deeply enthused’’ about the initiative.

“The world has changed and schools have not kept up with the rate of change,’’ he said. “I think this is a fairly significant step in trying to reclaim some of that ground.’’