WILDER — White House Adviser Ivanka Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the Wilder School District Tuesday.
Wilder Superintendent Jeff Dillon declined to comment on the visit and would not allow Idaho Education News inside the school to observe any of the activities. Shortly before her arrival, Trump tweeted that she was touring Wilder schools “to learn firsthand how they are preparing America’s future workforce using Apple technology to transform the learning environment and personalize students’ educational experiences based on their unique needs and strengths!”
Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter, arrived shortly after 10:15 a.m. She was greeted by two groups of protestors who assembled across the street from Wilder Elementary School. A group of six Wilder High School students walked out of class at about 8 a.m., saying the school’s staff would not allow them to express themselves honestly if they remained inside the school.
So instead, they walked outside, stood in the cold for hours and told members of the local media they are concerned about Wilder’s reliance on technology, worry about the district’s low test scores and fear the education they are receiving in Wilder won’t prepare them for college or life after high school.
Nadia, a Wilder sophomore, wanted to make sure the public heard both sides of the iPad story.
“We came out to tell you guys what’s really going on with our school,” Nadia said. “We are not really learning anything. The teachers are not allowed to teach anything. We are learning on iPads all day and we have to wait at least a week or so to get a test unlocked. And a lot of kids have been falling behind and then they cover that up and say everyone’s on target.”
Thomas, a Wilder 11thgrader, agreed with Nadia.
“There are a lot of things going wrong at this school and every time we try to speak out about it we are shut down and kept quiet,” he said.
Thomas and Nadia said they walked out of class once they realized the school was about to be locked down for the visit. They said they were unsure if they would be allowed to return to school.
Student achievement data shows that Wilder lags behind the state average in several academic indicators. This fall, the State Department of Education identified Wilder Middle School as one of the lowest-performing schools in Idaho. At Wilder Elementary, where Trump and Cook checked in Tuesday, just 26.7 percent of students scored “proficient” on math Idaho Standards Achievement Test in 2017-18. At Wilder High School, the go-on rate in 2017 was 25 percent, well below the state average of 45 percent, according to Idaho EdTrends.
Both students said they only learned of Trump’s visit on Monday. News of the visit first broke late Monday afternoon by the Idaho Press.
A group of Trump supporters, led by former Idaho Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, waved American flags and held signs praising President Trump. When Ivanka Trump arrived, they cheered and chanted, drawing a friendly wave from Trump in response as she entered the school.
Cook and Trump arrived separately in SUVs. In addition to the two small clusters of protestors, more than a dozen local journalists stood outside across from Wilder Elementary waiting for Cook and Trump. Multiple police officers from Wilder and Homedale could be seen patrolling the school grounds and interacting peacefully with the protestors. Additionally, a police K-9 unit passed by each vehicle outside the elementary school in the hour before Trump arrived. A patch on the officer’s uniform identified him as a Boise Police Department officer.
Although Dillon did not say why Trump and Cook chose to visit Wilder, the visit likely has something to do with Wilder’s extensive use of iPads. In March 2016, all Wilder K-12 students received iPads courtesy of an Apple ConnectEd grant and a partnership with the White House. Under that program, Apple worked with low-income schools to supply an iPad to every student in 114 different underserved school districts across the country.
Neither Trump nor Cook spoke with the journalists or protestors outside when they arrived. A reporter and photographer from the Idaho Statesman were allowed in the school and posted photos Tuesday morning of Dillon interacting with Cook.
Later Tuesday, a White House spokesman emailed a summary of what went on behind closed doors. Trump and Cook visited Lynn Rivera’s first grade classroom to watch students make video clips and watched Stephanie Bauer’s fifth- and sixth-grade students play a coding game they created, according to the White House email. Idaho EdNews was not allowed inside to witness or verify that information.
Scott Phillips, a spokesperson for the State Department of Education, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra did not participate in any of the activities in Wilder and did not meet separately with Trump on Tuesday.