METHUEN — To go with their new building, Methuen High students will each get an iPad this year to expand their learning opportunities.

Last week, freshmen and sophomores picked up their iPads. This week, juniors and seniors will get theirs. The devices are brand new for three grade levels. Last year’s freshman class, now incoming sophomores, received the tablets last year as a kind of test run.

“The freshmen were alone in the (Central School) building, so it gave us an isolated way to test this all out,” Instructional Technology Director Ed Lussier said.

Lussier said administrators had been discussing equipping each student with an iPad for about three years, and decided to adopt a one-to-one student-to-tablet ratio with the opening of the new high school building. The renovation has allowed staff to expand their use of technology, partly by making WiFi available throughout the building.

Though the $600,000 cost associated with leasing the new iPads took a chunk out of this year’s budget, Lussier sees the move as one that will help “bring the district into the 21st century,” saving the schools money in the long run.

There’s a cost associated, but the most expensive part is behind us now. The infrastructure is behind us now to make this work to its full capacity,” he said. “Copy machine maintenance, printers, not needing to maintain or put in new computer labs, we will save that money.”

School superintendent Judith Scannell and Lussier both said spending on new textbooks has been dramatically reduced, because the iPads will meet the same needs in many classes.

Last year, 400 devices were purchased outright for last year’s freshmen class. For the other three grade levels, the district has 1400 more iPads. By the time this year’s incoming freshmen are seniors, all of the devices will be paid up. In 2017, Lussier and other staff members will have to weigh their options. If Apple releases a new iPad, and the administration goes forward with purchasing new devices, Lussier said the older ones would likely be handed down to younger grade levels.

“Imagine what goes into getting a class of kindergartners down the hall to a computer lab,” he said. “Wheeling a cart (of iPads) into their classroom, on the other hand, is much easier.”

Some kindergarten classes are already sharing iPads between teachers, he said. At the high school, the iPads will be utilized by special needs students and English language learners in addition to their implementation in regular classrooms.

The individualized approach, Lussier said, helps at-risk students in some cases. Where traditional models of making a tri-fold display board or reading a chapter and responding with an essay don’t accommodate all learning styles, technology puts more options in each student’s hands.

“They can draw a comic strip, make a movie trailer,” he said. “It really allows the students to demonstrate their knowledge in a way that they feel most comfortable, and that’s something that we were never able to do before.”

Some loaners are available for students that forget their iPad or show up to class with a low battery, things that Lussier said happened occasionally during last year’s pilot program, but not as often as expected. Only two devices out of 400 went missing, though “a fair amount” suffered cosmetic damage such as cracked screens, he said. The district has taken out insurance on each iPad, meaning that students or parents only need to pay a deductible if the tablet is damaged, lost or stolen. Last year, it was $25. This year, it will go up to $35.

The model is based heavily on that of Burlington, Mass., which launched a one-to-one ratio of iPads to students in 2012. Nearby, Central Catholic High School also has a one-to-one program, but students are required to purchase their own devices.

“They will have a great variety of ways they’re used, between a special needs class versus our AP (Advanced Placement) courses, it’s going to be interesting to see how they’re incorporated across the board,” Lussier said. “That’s the exciting part to me, to be able to see all that unfold after all this work.”

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