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Students say iCan with iPads

By Aaron Blevins, 10/25/2012

Melrose School eyes Apple designation once again


If only Steve Jobs could see Melrose Avenue Elementary School now.

Students at Melrose Avenue Elementary School use Apple products such as iPads and laptops in a unique school program. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

The elementary school is applying for its third year as an Apple Distinguished School, a designation given after schools purchase Apple equipment and apply for the status. In exchange, the school receives free teacher training from Apple and the ability to network with other tech-savvy schools.

After becoming the 54th Apple Distinguished School in the country in 2010, Melrose purchased iPads and laptops for use in the classroom. Last week, the school offered a tour to parents and administrators from other schools to offer a glimpse of how the technology has changed the curriculum.

“We want to cross-pollinate and talk to other schools that are like-minded and are heavy into instructional technology integration,” principal Bernadette Lucas said.

At Melrose, students in kindergarten through second grade are given iPads at a two-to-one ratio. Second-graders also receive laptops at a two-to-one ratio. All students in grades three through five are given their own laptop that they can use 24/7.

While the tablets and laptops are used in the classroom for everyday activities, such as assessments, second- and fourth-graders use their laptops to study animation. In fifth grade, students use them to learn robotics.

Lucas said the engagement the children have through the program and the technology helps them develop their creativity.

“They’re able to act as innovators. They feel, in their minds, that they are computer engineers and programmers,” she said, adding that they have become developers, not just consumers, of knowledge. “It’s been very powerful.”

Lucas said the program has had an impact on the school’s standardized tests. This year, the school’s Academic Performance Index score is 881, almost 100 points over the state benchmark.

The elementary school has also been named a California Distinguished School for 2012, which Lucas thanks in part to the Apple program. She said the designation is further validation of the school’s hard work.

“It’s a badge of honor for our students and our staff and our parents,” Lucas added.

Being a part of an Apple Distinguished School will also prepare the students for the jobs of the future, she said. Lucas added that the jobs that will be available in the next 10 to 20 years don’t exist yet, so it’s important to teach students to be creative problem solvers.

“We’re trying to develop a skill set in them. …We want them to see themselves as people who can solve problems when they have the tools,” the principal added.

She said the work encourages collaboration, which was on display last week, when students frequently consulted with or assisted their peers as they worked their way through a lesson. Lucas said more workplaces in the future will have a similar atmosphere.

Melrose invested $350,000 of the money it received to become a magnet school in Apple products to become a part of the program. Now, Lucas said the school is looking to “refresh” its technology.

She said the cost will be approximately $50,000 to $60,000, and the school’s parents will likely be a big source of that funding. The school, though, has options for low-income parents, and Melrose enters lease-to-own agreements with its laptops, Lucas said.

“That’s still a challenge in these times,” she added. “It’s a huge challenge.”

Lucas said the faculty at Melrose has responded to the technology, just as the students have.

“They’re absolutely amazing,” she said. “They look at the technology as a place to take risks; that failure is OK. There’s nothing they won’t try to benefit our kids.”

The principal said “it’s a prestige thing” to be a part of the Apple program. Lucas said Apple has a rubric for qualifying schools, which must show appropriate leadership, parent engagement and technology integration, among other things.

“It’s an honor,” she said, adding that only two LAUSD schools are currently in the Apple program.

Lucas said the school must reapply for the program each year, and administrators are currently awaiting the results of their third application.



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